Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is, at its heart, a novel about marriage. Though Nick and Amy’s marriage is a supremely twisted example, Flynn uses their extreme circumstances to make a larger narrative comment on what it means to be in a partnership, make a commitment, and weather the unforeseeable, uncontrollable aspects of a life lived entwined with another person. In any romantic partnership or marriage, people bind themselves to one another for better or for worse—but through Nick and Amy’s story, Flynn ultimately argues that the bonds of marriage have the power to destabilize a pair of lives just as equally as they have the potential to strengthen them.
Gillian Flynn makes sure that her readers know from the start that Nick and Amy’s marriage is less than stable. The novel opens on the morning of their fifth anniversary—traditionally known as the “wood” anniversary—to symbolize the woodenness and staleness that has overtaken the Dunnes’ once vibrant and passionate relationship. As the story of Nick and Amy’s courtship expands, however, the secrets, lies, and narrative tricks employed by Nick, Amy, and Flynn herself make it clear that things in the Dunne household are even worse than they seem. Coming together in matrimony has forever derailed both Nick and Amy’s lives—in binding themselves to one another five years ago, they sealed their fate and began a downhill slide into an endless spiral of cruelty, anger, and resentment. As Amy—bound for the Ozarks after spending nearly a year plotting to escape Carthage and frame Nick for her murder—recounts the true history of her relationship with Nick, she enumerates all the ways in which their partnership, which she hoped would nourish and validate her, has actually been a destructive and destabilizing force in her life. Amy recalls acting like the stereotype of the “Cool Girl”—a laid-back, sexually open, perennially hot woman designed to make men swoon—in the early days of her relationship with Nick. She wanted to “win” him, and could tell he wanted a “Cool Girl” in his life. Amy committed so hard, however, to the role of “Cool Girl,” that she ended up destabilizing the core of who she was—and when it came time to upend her life for the sake of her husband’s happiness, she had no choice but to continue going with the flow. In Missouri, Amy gave up all her time and energy to care for Nick’s parents, and even loaned Nick an enormous sum of money to start a bar downtown with his twin sister, Go. Amy tired of the charade and began behaving like her normal self around Nick—only to find that he rejected her and became repulsed by the truth of who she was. Now, Amy hates Nick and wants to frame him for murder because she does, in a way, feel he has killed her—through his ambivalence and apathy he annihilated the woman she was and encouraged her to twist herself into a Frankenstein-esque monster, a cobbled-together woman made of shiny but unstable parts.
Nick, too, considers the ways in which being with Amy has changed and destabilized him over the years. He has worn himself thin pretending he is the man she wants him to be, and the pressure has proven too much for him. Instead of rising to meet Amy’s expectations, as he knows she hoped he would, he has fallen far in the other direction, becoming a caricature of the things he always loathed and feared about himself. Nick has never quite felt like Amy’s match—she spent her youth bouncing between prestigious boarding schools and her parents’ Manhattan brownstone while the down-home, midwestern Nick spent his summers as a child dressing up like Huck Finn for tourists on the Mississippi river. In the early days of their relationship, Nick felt that Amy bettered him and educated him—but as their relationship has progressed, Nick has begun to buckle under the pressure of trying to be the man Amy wants him to be. Once a successful journalist, he now teaches writing at a Podunk community college; once a lonely man with dreams of fatherhood, he has accepted Amy’s indifference to family life with a dreary resignation. Nick and Amy’s relationship has become the very picture of disappointment and resentment, and the rocky foundation of their marriage has given way. Nick and Amy spend ninety percent of the novel apart—they only reunite for its final forty-four pages, each of which is suffused entirely with an overwhelming sense of dread. As the novel speeds towards its end, Nick and Amy both come to realize that they have no choice but to resume their marriage and continue the façade they’ve been keeping up with for so many years. They have destabilized one another to a point where codependence is the only option—neither knows who they are without the other, and neither is willing to split apart and find out.
Amy and Nick’s toxic marriage causes Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt, to remark that they are the most “fucked-up people” he’s ever met—to be sure, Gillian Flynn has designed the couple at the heart of Gone Girl to be larger than life and have gigantic problems that reflect their fatal attraction to one another. However, in picking apart the years of slowly accruing resentments, secrets, lies, and power struggles which define the Dunnes’ marriage, Flynn creates an unsettling argument: the Dunnes, for all their craziness, are not all that different from the average American couple. Any partnership forever alters the flow of both parties’ lives, if only in that they find themselves marking their course and steering their ship together. In the Dunnes’ toxic and codependent marriage, or any marriage like it, however, both individuals are plunging straight for the depths, unable to understand or begin to reckon with what they have “done to each other”—or what they have yet to do.
Marriage Quotes in Gone Girl
When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. […] And what’s inside it. I think of that too: her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm. I positively hum around him, fussing and fixing. I have become a strange thing. I have become a wife. I find myself steering the ship of conversations—bulkily, unnaturally—just so I can say his name aloud. I have become a wife, I have become a bore, I have been asked to forfeit my Independent Young Feminist card. I don’t care. I balance his checkbook, I trim his hair.
“People think they know [Amy] because they read the books growing up,” I said.
“I can see that,” Boney said, nodding. “People want to believe they know other people. Parents want to believe they know their kids. Wives want to believe they know their husbands.”
[Nick] promised to take care of me, and yet I feel afraid. I feel like something is going wrong, very wrong, and that it will get even worse. I don’t feel like Nick’s wife. I don’t feel like a person at all: I am something to be loaded and unloaded, like a sofa or a cuckoo clock. I am something to be tossed into a junkyard, thrown into the river, if necessary. I don’t feel real anymore. I feel like I could disappear.
Amy was blooming large in my mind. She was gone, and yet she was more present than anyone else. I’d fallen in love with Amy because I was the ultimate Nick with her. Loving her made me superhuman, it made me feel alive. […] Amy made me believe I was exceptional, that I was up to her level if play. That was both our making and undoing. Because I couldn’t handle the demands of greatness. […] I turned her into the brittle, prickly thing she became. I had pretended to be one kind of man and revealed myself to be quite another.
I’m so much happier now that I’m dead.
Technically, missing. Soon to be presumed dead. But as shorthand, we’ll say dead. It’s been only a matter of hours, but I feel better already: loose joints, wavy muscles. At one point this morning, I realized my face felt strange, different. I looked in the rearview mirror—dread Carthage forty-three miles behind me, my smug husband lounging around his sticky bar as mayhem dangled on a thin piano wire just above his shitty, oblivious head—and I realized I was smiling. Ha! That’s new.
I could hear the tale, how everyone would love telling it: how Amazing Amy, the girl who never did wrong, let herself be dragged, penniless, to the middle of the country, where her husband threw her over for a younger woman. How predictable, how perfectly average, how amusing. And her husband? He ended up happier than ever. No. I couldn’t allow that. […]
I changed my name for that piece of shit. Historical records have been altered—Amy Elliott to Amy Dunne—like it’s nothing. No, he does not get to win.
So I began to think of a different story, a better story, that would destroy Nick for doing this to me. A story that would restore my perfection. It would make me the hero, flawless and adored.
Because everyone loves the Dead Girl.
“My wife, she just happens to be the coolest girl I’ve ever met. How many guys can say that? I married the coolest girl I ever met.”
Youfuckingbitchyoufuckingbitchyoufuckingbitch. Come home so I can kill you.
I spent the rest of my day picturing how I’d kill Amy. It was all I could think of: finding a way to end her. Me smashing in Amy’s busy, busy brain. I had to give Amy her due: I may have been dozing the past few years, but I was fucking wide awake now. I was electric again, like I had been in the early days of our marriage.
I gestured to the twine, the hacked hair, the dried blood. “So, what’s your story, wife?”
“I’m back,” she whimpered. “I made it back to you.” She moved to put her arms around me. I moved away.
“What is your story, Amy?”
“Desi,” she whispered, her lower lip trembling. “Desi Collings took me. It was the morning. Of. Of our anniversary. And the doorbell rang, and I thought... I don’t know, I thought maybe it was flowers from you.”
I flinched. Of course she’d find a way to work in a gripe: that I hardly ever sent her flowers, when her dad had sent her mom flowers each week since they’d been married. That’s 2,444 bouquets of flowers vs. 4.
Who will 1 be then? The question wasn’t recriminatory. It wasn’t like the answer was the pious: Then you’ll be a killer, Nick. You’ll be as bad as Amy. You’ll be what everyone thought you were. No. The question was frighteningly soulful and literal: Who would I be without Amy to react to? Because she was right: As a man, I had been my most impressive when I loved her—and I was my next best self when I hated her. I had known Amy only seven years, but I couldn’t go back to life without her.
I have a book deal: I am officially in control of our story. It feels wonderfully symbolic. Isn’t that what every marriage is, anyway? Just a lengthy game of he-said, she-said? Well, she is saying, and the world will listen, and Nick will have to smile and agree. I will write him the way I want him to be: romantic and thoughtful and very very repentant—about the credit cards and the purchases and the woodshed. If I can’t get him to say it out loud, he’ll say it in my book. Then he’ll come on tour with me and smile and smile.
I’m calling the book simply: Amazing.
Yes, I am finally a match for Amy. The other morning I woke up next to her, and I studied the back of her skull. I tried to read her thoughts. For once I didn’t feel like I was staring into the sun. I’m rising to my wife’s level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I’m the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It’s a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can’t imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist. We are one long frightening climax.