The novel begins in the wake of Amy’s disappearance on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, which soon leads to media crucifixions, a sinister scavenger hunt, and a War of the Roses-meets-Fatal Attraction whodunit that harnesses enough literary shock and awe to keep you up ‘till the wee hours. We caught up with Flynn to talk about the book’s runaway success, where she gets her dark inspirations, and what’s next.
How does it feel to have a runaway bestseller on your hands?
It wasn’t like I wrote this book and thought, “Oh, this is going to be the breakout book.” The other two had done fine and I kind of figured this would be the same way, but it’s been very, very exciting. This one took me longer—several years of just writing and writing in my basement—and to have it come out into the world and become this actual thing is really, really cool. It’s been a good summer.
So where did the Dunnes’ story begin?
It took me so long to figure it out. I knew the twist—that’s basically what we sold the book on—and I had an opening chapter that was very different from what’s in the book now. At the time it was set in Chicago, and I wasn’t quite sure about the tone. It took a lot of mucking around to figure out what the book was—the main thing I knew I wanted to write about was the strange give and take of marriage, and how marriage is a dangerous thing, because you’re wedded to someone who knows how to push every single one of your buttons and can actually do you harm.
You also seem to be fascinated by how certain kinds of media control a culture or move it in different directions.
I think people really, really underestimate pop culture—we dismiss it as this pervasive thing, but I don’t think we really understand how it completely seeps into every aspect of our lives. It’s almost impossible unless we turn off every single outlet — TV, movies, Internet — to not take something from it; it changes our personalities in subtle forms. We have so many layers added on top of us these days that to get to the actual person takes a lot of digging. I think we’re all very good at putting up ruses and fronts because we don’t know that we’re consciously doing it.
What got you so fascinated with the kind of dark characters and themes that we see in the book?
It started with me being a weird kid who was interested in very dark, macabre stories. My dad read me Edgar Allen Poe and gave me Edward Gorey storybooks and took me to scary movies at a very young age, but the first time I became really obsessed with this kind of dark side was when I read In Cold Blood when I was 12 or 13. I read it over and over again—it fascinated me because I had a very safe childhood, so the idea that bad things could really happen in real life gave me chills. I was always a worrier, but I didn’t really have anything real to worry about, so I channeled it that way.
How do you plan to translate this to film?
I’m the daughter of a film professor, so I have great respect for the fact that books and films are two totally different creatures. I’m starting to break the book down and put it back together as a screenplay—there are certain scenes and characters that will have to go and certain scenes I’m going to fight for.
Dare I ask about the next novel?
I’ve not started another book yet. This one sort of took it out of me. I’m not a fast writer, and if I start too quickly it just sounds like the previous one. I’ve learned that the hard way. But I’m really, really excited about the screenplay. I think Reese is going to blow it out of the water. It’ll be fun to see her tap that dark vein again. Election is one of my all-time favorite movies, so this should be a good way to revisit that type of character.
Portrait: Heidi Jo Brady