The first half of the book, in which Nick plunges deeper and deeper into the mire, is interspersed with extracts from Amy's diary in which she chronicles a marriage turning sour. This part of the story is fascinating, but the diary entries interrupt the narrative flow. Half way through (almost exactly, page 241 out of 463) comes the first major twist. From there till the end the book still flips between the Nick narrative and the Amy narrative but now both halves are equally compelling. It becomes a thriller. But it also loses something. The first half had a hypnotic reality; the second half is a story. Things start to happen that are a little further from the expectations of everyday existence; credibility is stretched a little further.
Much of the joy of the (slow) first half was the portrait of an America in terrible decline. Both Nick and Amy are made redundant by the internet: print magazines are out of fashion and they are unable to switch to blogs. The small Missouri town they return to is blighted by mortgage failure: Nick mows several lawns of abandoned neighbouring properties to keep the raccoon population down. At one point in the search for missing Amy Nick and his father-in-law and attendant friends, armed with baseball bats, travel to the derelict, bankrupt shopping mall where gangs of hoodlums, made redundant by the demise of an exercise book factory (also because of the internet) hang out, allegedly selling drugs and gang-raping women. The environment is one of abandonment and menace.
This first half was slow reading and I had to keep going but in retrospect it was the more rewarding half. The action predominates in the second half but the book loses its rooting in reality. The ending is too bizarre to believe. I would not have done what Nick ends up doing; more to the point I do not believe, despite the psychological motives advanced, that Nick would do what he ends up doing. I do not believe the police, who had been terriers till this point, would have acted so timidly at the end. So the end was disappointing.
But there were other disappointments as well. Nick is paranoid at the beginning of the book. He wakes up to find the sun staring at him: "You have been seen," he thinks. Later he is by the Mississippi and sees a "long single-file line of men, eyes aimed at their feet, their shoulders tense, walking steadfastly nowhere. As I watched them, one suddenly looked up at me, his face in shadow, an oval blackness. .... You have been seen." There is no reason advanced for this paranoia, nor does this wonderful image of the line of men seem to have anything to do with anything else in the book.
More seriously, on the second page (page 4 of the paperback) Nick wakes up on the morning of the day when his wife will disappear "in bed, which was our New York bed in our new house". On page 113, in Amy's diary, "our New York bed" stays in New York when they move away. I understand the concept of the unreliable narrator but this cannot be a simple slip: both Nick and Amy are certain about their facts about the bed and have no reason to lie except to leave evidence that they are lying. It is such a big discrepancy that it can hardly be a simple mistake by the author. Of course this issue nags at me throughout the book; I am expecting that somehow this is the clue on which the final twist depends. It isn't. The issue never gets resolved. This annoys me.
Upon reflection, I suppose I also liked the first half better than the second because the first half is a whodunnit and the second half a thriller. I always prefer whodunnits. And this is what annoyed me about the bed: you can't do that in a whodunnit. I have not read anything else by Ms Flynn but I suspect she is more of a thriller writer with an emphasis on the psychology.