Midway through the plot of Gone Girl comes the revelation that Amy Elliott Dunne has not been killed or kidnapped, but rather has orchestrated her own disappearance in an attempt to frame her husband, Nick Dunne, for murder as vengeance for the emotional damage he’s done to her life and their marriage. This shocking twist overturns everything that Gillian Flynn’s audience has come to believe up until that point. As the second half of the novel unpacks, categorizes, and seeks to explain the mountain of secrets and lies which have built up over the years of Nick and Amy’s marriage, Flynn uses the extreme example set by her dual narrators to argue that the secrets and lies that form the bedrock of a marriage, a partnership, a sense of self, or even a murder investigation can eventually become more relevant than the truth.
Nick and Amy’s very marriage is built on a series of half-truths. At separate points in the narrative, both admit to having pretended to be very different versions of themselves for one another early on in their relationship, and concede trying to impress, bait, and hook one another by behaving the way they believe the other wanted them to. Amy made herself into a “Cool Girl” who gave herself over to all of Nick’s desires—Nick buried his midwestern roots and small-town sensibility, adopting the upper-crust, cosmopolitan lifestyle his wife had lived all her life. The ways in which Nick and Amy’s marriage is a destabilizing force in both their lives is a theme in and of itself—but the secrets and lies they told one another in the formative years of their relationship both foreshadowed and dictated the necessity of other, more elaborate lies as they moved from courtship to marriage.
Dishonesty and secretiveness is also woven into the very structure of the novel itself. The entire foundation of the book—just like Nick and Amy’s marriage—is built on a series of mistruths and half-truths both small and large. On a metatextual level, the information doled out to the audience through Amy’s diary entries is all lies. The story she crafts about the emotional, physical, and psychological abuse Nick subjected her to after they moved to his hometown of Carthage, Missouri, is patently false—but to Amy, it might as well be true. She sees Nick as a cruel, boring, apathetic man who drained her of her vitality, her youth, her money, and her time, moved her to the middle of the country, and abandoned her for a younger woman. Though Nick never shoved Amy or raped her, as she alleges in her diary, she feels that she has been violated on a deeper level—and so the lies about Nick’s concrete actions become more important to both her and to the authorities than the complicated, muddy truth of how their marriage slowly fell apart. Thus, Gillian Flynn suffuses not just the plot of the novel but additionally its very form with an obsession with what happens when a pattern of secrets and lies destabilize and even render pointless the truth.
The investigation which begins to unfold in the wake of Amy’s disappearance is, like her marriage to Nick and the structure of the novel, built on a foundation of secrets and lies. Every clue, every inconsistency, and every strange new lead has been orchestrated by Amy. After studying crime novels and using the psychological know-how gleaned from her psychologist parents and her background writing personality quizzes for a magazine, Amy engineered her disappearance and its aftershocks on both an evidentiary level and a psychological one. She created a strange-looking crime scene and lazily cleaned it up; she used what she knew about her husband, her parents, and the ever-changing tide of public opinion to ensure that Nick would fall into each and every one of her traps. Detectives Boney and Gilpin fall for Amy’s masterpiece completely—they believe Nick is guilty and pursue no other suspects, botching the investigation so that when Amy returns (and when Boney realizes that Nick was right about his wife having attempted to frame him), the police have no inroad to a second investigation into Amy’s actions. The foundation of lies upon which the investigation is built makes the truth of what happened not only irrelevant, but undiscoverable—the authorities and the public are for the most part not only unable to poke holes in Amy’s outlandish story of kidnap, rape, and torture, but uninterested in even considering that the facts they’ve taken as truth are in fact nothing but lies. After Nick and Amy are reunited, their reunion, too, becomes entirely dependent on both parties’ willingness to bury the truth of what has transpired between them in order to create a strained façade of normalcy, which will allow them to profit off book deals and a small slice of national celebrity—while further destabilizing what little solidarity they still share.
All of these ingredients add up to the much larger question of what it means to suffuse a relationship, an investigation, or even a novel with so many outright lies, baffling half-truths, and slowly festering secrets. Ultimately, Nick and Amy find themselves buried under the lies they’ve told themselves, one another, and the authorities. Any attempt to excavate some semblance of truth falls short, because they’ve so mired themselves in falsehoods that it’s almost as if no objective truth even exists anymore. Still, Flynn chooses to end the novel on a slightly dissonant note: in a rare moment of honesty, Nick tells Amy that he’s sorry for her because “every morning [she has] to wake up and be [herself.]” This startling admission rattles something deep within Amy—and seems to foretell that though for now both Nick and Amy are comfortable (if not happy) living a lie in which they’re a happy, normal, American couple, the dam they’ve made for themselves will soon break.
Secrets and Lies ThemeTracker
Secrets and Lies 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?
My parents have always worried that I’d take Amy too personally—they always tell me not to read too much into her. And yet I can’t fail to notice that whenever I screw something up, Amy does it right… […] This used to drive me mad… […] That my parents, two child psychologists, chose this particular public form of passive-aggressiveness toward their child was not just fucked up but also stupid and weird and kind of hilarious. So be it.
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.
I felt a surge of angst. What a fucking day. Boney was out to get me, Noelle was insane, Shawna was pissed, Hilary was resentful, the woman at the security company was a bitch, and my wife had stumped me finally. It was time to end this goddamn day.
“This is going to be a real test for you, Nick,” [Go] murmured, not looking at me. “You’ve always had trouble with the truth—you always do the little fib if you think it will avoid a real argument. You’ve always gone the easy way. […] You’re still fibbing like a little boy. You’re still desperate to have everyone think you’re perfect. You never want to be the bad guy.”
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.
That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, l don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists.
[Amy] knew she’d punish me good. Now at our final stop, Amy was ready for me to know how clever she was. Because the woodshed was packed with about every gizmo and gadget that I swore to Boney and Gilpin I hadn’t bought with the credit cards I swore I didn’t know anything about. The insanely expensive golf clubs were here, the watches and game consoles, the designer clothes, they were all sitting here, in wait, on my sister’s property. Where it looked like I’d stored them until my wife was dead and I could have a little fun.
I looked at the puppets. “So she’s giving me the narrative of my frame-up.”
“I can’t even wrap my brain around this. Fucking psycho.”
“Yeah, right: You didn’t want her to be pregnant, you got angry and killed her and the unborn baby.”
“Feels anticlimactic somehow,” I said.
“The climax is when you are taught the lesson that Punch never learns, and you are caught and charged with murder.”
“And Missouri has the death penalty,” I said. “Fun game.”
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 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.
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.