Any thriller published after the juggernaut that was Gone Girl will inevitably be compared to Gillian Flynn’s third, and perhaps most popular, novel. I can only imagine how daunting this must be for writers of that genre, and the desire to supplant Gone Girl as an American classic must be strong. Though I’ve read many books that have attempted to overthrow that novel, there’s only one that I believe comes dangerously close. Good As Gone by Amy Gentry is that book: a searing, unsettling novel that makes readers confront their own ideals of what it means to be strong.
The book starts some eight years after the disappearance of Julie Whitaker, a thirteen-year-old who was taken from her bed in the middle of the night. The only witness was her younger sister, Jane. Anna, the strong, logical matriarch of the Whitaker family believes there’s no way her daughter could still be alive. “I believe in statistics,” Anna says. “…the statistics say that three-quarters of abducted children who are murdered are dead within the first three hours of being taken… by the time we knew Julie was gone, her fate was sealed.”
While settling down for a family dinner, the doorbell rings. When Anna answers it, she sees the impossible: a woman with “ashen skin stretched thin over wide cheekbones.” She’s wearing dingy clothes. Her feet are bare. It’s Julie, returned to them after eight long years.
Everyone is happy to have Julie home, but Anna can’t help the growing doubts inside her. When she gets a call from a private detective, she becomes determined to discover the truth about the woman now living in her house.
From the outset, Good As Gone had me hooked. I’m a sucker for a good first line, and the beginning of chapter one didn’t disappoint: “Julie’s been gone for eight years, but she’s been dead much longer – centuries – when I step outside into the steaming air on my way to teach my last class of the spring semester.”
The characters were wonderfully rendered; I never felt any of the main or supporting characters were flat. I especially liked Anna, because her strength and pragmatism remind me of my own mother.
What I found to be the most interesting were the chapters not told from Anna’s point of view. They follow a woman who’s obviously had a hard life, and through each narration, you learn a little bit more about her. It takes a while to get used to the interplay between Anna’s chapters, which are told in first person, and the other chapters, which are told in third. Once you realize what the author is doing, though, the story becomes all the more heartbreaking. The author ties every loose end, and when I was done with the book, I wanted to re-read it.
If I had to add a critique, wish there was a little more from Jane, the younger sister. I felt that the author removed her from the scene too soon, however my personal opinion is probably because I enjoyed her character so much.
It wasn’t just the subject matter that kept me reading, but the choices the author made, stylistically. It’s tricky to write a book with multiple perspectives; often the voices of the characters seem to blend together until they are indistinguishable. I never had a problem distinguishing Anna from the other narrator. Gentry’s word choice was always crisp and straight to the point.
I highly recommend Good As Gone for anyone looking for a well-written, intriguing thriller. I enjoyed it very much, and I look forward to Gentry’s next endeavor.