Friday, May 13, 2016

Sister Dear: Gone Girl Themes of Love, Loss & Forgiveness

Gone Girl opens on the day of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, the very day wife Amy goes missing. The story begins with a light and breezy journal entry from Amy’s diary, in which she talks about “meeting a boy.” What follows is Nick’s first person narrative, a darker, more realistic look at the couple.

The reader soon learns that Nick and Amy have both lost their jobs and were forced to head back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri to take care of his sick mother. Amy, who grew up in a wealthy home, is openly bitter about the move and hates leaving the glamour of New York behind. She is unable to forgive Nick for their misfortune and carries that regret and resentment to their new home. It is then when Nick begins to cheat on Amy with a much younger girl.

Amy’s journal entries soon start to show a different side of Nick: one that is increasingly abusive and frightening. In a plot twist in the second part of Gone Girl, however, the reader discovers that Amy knew that Nick had been cheating on her. In an elaborate plan for revenge she concocted the year earlier, Amy disappears, hoping to frame Nick for “killing” her. It becomes clear that Amy is truly unhinged and that much of her diary entries are complete fabrication.

All of it leads to the showdown between the couple, with Nick attempting to win Amy back. It is his goal, in the process, to clear his name and perhaps exact his own revenge. With so much hate, angst, and strife, it is unlikely that Nick will ever forget Amy’s actions, but as the story closes, and the couple is still together, readers are left to wonder if Nick can ever truly forgive Amy and raise their child together.

Like Gone Girl, Sister Dear is very much about love, loss, betrayal, and forgiveness. Similar to Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, Emma Marshall grew up in a privileged household. Her parents aren’t wealthy, but Emma’s father is a prominent veterinarian in Brunswick, Ga. Though she doesn’t lose her job, like Amy, Emma does bounce around in life, attempting to find her place between college and her career goals, all the while watching her older sister, Allie, achieve everything she sets her mind to, including the graceful handling of single motherhood.

About the time Allie is accepted to medical school, Emma finds love, only to find it snatched away after several months of bliss. Though circumstances are beyond Allie’s control, Emma determines that her loss is her sibling’s fault. Instead of coming to Allie’s rescue, Emma sits back and lets Allie’s life spiral out of control.

Though Emma is not as calculating as Amy, who spends a year plotting revenge against Nick, Emma does live with the knowledge that she could have saved her sister from spending a decade inside Arrendale State Prison. Emma tells her story through Caroline, her niece and Allie’s daughter. She recreates reality for Caroline, much like the “reality” created through Amy Dunne’s diary. Since Caroline is too young to remember her mother for who she was before her arrest, Emma weaves her own version of the story—convincing herself that keeping Allie locked up is just penance for her sister’s part in taking away the man she loves.

When Allie finally discovers that she has been betrayed, she doesn’t hatch her own plan, like Nick, to draw Emma back in and get revenge. Allie confronts her sister and asks for a confessional. She focuses on rebuilding her relationship with her daughter, her family, and her former fiancé Ben. Caroline, in turn, finds truth and forgives her mother.

Gone Girl and Sister Dear are full of disturbing characters, driven by jealousy and revenge. Both novels illustrate family dysfunction, the pain caused by keeping secrets, and the lasting loss that results from exacting revenge. Though Amy Dunne and Emma Marshall want desperately to right the “wrongs” they believe were done to them, neither woman takes responsibility for the harm they have caused to others, and therefore, neither wins anything in the end.

In contrast, Allie chooses forgiveness, allowing her to go on with her life. This, by no means, erases all that has been done to Allie, nor does it give back the ten years of her life that were lost inside Arrendale State Prison. But by forgiving Emma, Allie sets herself free and allows the past to exist—where it belongs—in the past.

Do you have a favorite story about love, loss, and forgiveness?

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