Don’t let the bright yellow and hot pink cover on Amy Genry’s debut novel fool you. Good as Gone is a story that goes to some dark places. Oh, did I just say dark places? If you’ve been following my book commentary on this blog or on my Instagram, then you may know that I’m a Gillian Flynn fan and thus don’t mind dark places (and Flynn’s sophomore novel was actually titled exactly that: Dark Places). So listen up Gillian Flynn fans: You need to take notice of Amy Gentry.
Good as Gone kicks off with a creepy prologue where thirteen-year-old Julie is kidnapped from her own bedroom while her parents are asleep down the hall and Julie’s younger sister cowers in a closet.
Flash forward to eight years later: Julie’s mother Anna, a distracted college professor, continues to grapple with the grief and the guilt and the unanswered questions. She’s going through the motions of life and feels disconnected from her husband and her younger daughter Jane. At the end of chapter one, Anna’s life is shaken up once again when the family’s doorbell rings, and she answers it to find adult Julie standing there.
From that point, the story alternates chapters between two story perspective/timelines:
The first is a present day story from Anna’s point of view. It explores the emotional experience of her daughter’s return. It’s a miracle answered that doesn’t feel quite as joyous as the mother would have hoped. Julie’s return further unveils Anna’s anxieties about motherhood and the shortcomings in her relationship with her husband and other daughter. On top of all of that, Anna becomes increasingly suspicious that the woman who has shown up at her door isn’t actually her daughter Julie but is an imposter trying to take an advantage of a grieving family who is still desperate for answers almost a decade after the crime. (This is not a spoiler. The suspicions begin early in the story).
The second perspective is a reverse chronological story that reveals what Julie has gone through since the kidnapping, told in third person point of view. At first, it maintains more narrative distance than Anna’s storyline. This (along with the fact that it unfolds backwards in time) helps to tease out the mystery surrounding certain parts of Julie’s story. As a reader, you will learn the truth of everything as Anna does.
Initially, I was most engaged when I was reading Anna’s chapters because the emotional aspect of that story went deeper. But as I got further into the novel, my curiosity about Julie deepened – who is she really? And my sympathy increased for her as I discovered the things she’d endured and survived in life. Imposter or not, I felt for the character, and I wanted answers as to who exactly she was. And if she wasn’t Julie, then what happened to Anna’s real daughter? I started tearing through the chapters faster to get to the answers.
The first half of the novel is a character drama that delves into complicated family dynamics and the aftermath of trauma. Around the midpoint, things take a darker turn in the chapters that deal with Julie’s life, and that’s when the story turns more into a psychological thriller with suspense that builds toward an exciting ending. Some of the later scenes are gritty and sinister, but not so bleak that they’re totally devoid of hope. There are complex layers to the story.
However, if you’re looking for a cozy mystery, you’d be better advised to find one with a fluffy cat that takes place at a bed and breakfast or a lighthouse. If you’re looking for a novel that explores the darker side of human nature and delivers some surprises along the way, read this one. It contains some hauntingly sad and frightening moments, but it’s also insightful and interesting. And yes, it surprised me at times, which was very nice for a change! As a reader, I tend to see most twists coming. I chalk this up to being a writer myself, because the reality is that twists in books or screenplays should be set up so that they don’t come out of left field and feel unfair and random. Because of that, I rarely feel surprised when I’m reading. However, Good as Gone was a story that really swept me into the ride and I wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen.
Gentry’s writing style is fantastic. It feels effortless with a good mix of description and dialogue. The tone and style from one perspective to the other (Anna’s versus Julie’s) is distinctive and different, yet the two perspectives seamlessly blend into a cohesive overall style. Gentry’s use of subtle metaphors deepen the atmosphere and the story’s themes.
Good as Gone is Gentry’s debut novel, and it was published in 2016. Her second novel, Last Woman Standing, came out in 2019 (and I will be reading that next). In 2021, she will release her third novel Bad Habits. If you’re a fan of literary thrillers, Good as Gone is definitely one to add to your reading list!
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.