Nick and Amy are—or were—both writers by trade. Laid off from high-profile magazine jobs before the events of the novel began, both of them struggle with repressed creativity, a desire to organize the things that happen to them into stories, and to wrest control of their life’s narratives from the forces that have derailed them both. As Nick and Amy become increasingly obsessed with taking back the reins of their own stories, they employ various methods in a series of escalating attempts to control, once and for all, the narratives of their lives and their marriage. Throughout Gone Girl, Flynn shows how deeply Nick and Amy both hold the belief that power over narrative is power over circumstance, and ultimately argues that this slightly sinister belief is, nonetheless, true.
The struggle between Nick and Amy to gain control over the narrative of their lives—together and separately—as well as that of their marriage is written into the very DNA of the novel. As the perspective alternates back and forth, gaining momentum and then careening to a rapid-fire conclusion, it becomes clear that Amy and Nick have been struggling for ownership of their own stories for the entirety of their relationship—and will continue doing so until the bitter end.
Amy is more well-versed than Nick in what it means to lose control over one’s narrative—and to try to gain it back at any cost. Her entire childhood was cannibalized by her parents, Rand and Marybeth, as fodder for their Amazing Amy series of children’s books, in which they cribbed important events from Amy’s youth and turned them into stories meant to educate other children in how to be “amazing.” In reality, Amy was never the perfect child her parents marketed her as to the masses—and yet the narrative that she had to be in order to keep up with her fictive alter-ego transformed Amy into a power-hungry perfectionist determined to live the kind of storybook life her warped childhood led her to believe she should. Amy’s backstory sets up the idea that she is desperate for a sense not just over the story she tells herself about her identity and her circumstances, but over what happens to her in her real life. Because the fictional “Amazing Amy” always showed her up no matter what regular Amy did in the real world, Amy knows that in order to regain control over herself, she will have to do something truly spectacular and unforgettable—which leads to the creation of her plot to get “gone.”
The diary that Amy keeps as a piece of evidence in her mysterious disappearance is a catalog of seven years of false entries which weave a mostly false story of suffering escalating abuse in her marriage with Nick. The diary is Amy’s last-ditch effort to reclaim power over the many slights and cruelties she sees Nick as having thrust upon her. Nick, in Amy’s view, has sucked up all her money, dragged her to the Midwest, and emotionally abandoned her for a younger woman. The story Amy had been telling herself about her relationship with Nick when they were happy and in love in New York—that they are two whip-smart, laid-back, bonkers-in-love equals—has fallen apart, and as she sets out to start her diary, Amy begins constructing a new story which she feels emotionally matches up with the way she feels: cast out, ignored, and used up.
Towards the end of the novel, when Amy makes her triumphant return to Carthage after “escaping” from her former high school boyfriend (and alleged stalker) Desi Collings’s lake house, she again begins spinning a narrative which suits her, once more showing that the ability to shape a narrative is essentially the ability to shape the circumstances of a situation. She alleges that Desi kidnapped her, tied her to a bed for weeks, and raped her repeatedly—but because Desi’s dead, and because of the “narrative” Amy put in place by framing herself as the victim, no one questions her story. She’s even offered a score of lucrative book deals from competing publishers—all she has to do is pick the vessel for her story and write it. Amy believes herself firmly in charge of her own story once and for all—until she realizes that Nick is staying up writing all night every night, working on a tell-all of his own. When Amy discovers what Nick’s doing, she threatens to hurt their unborn child—or implicate Nick in having done so. Nick realizes he has been “outplayed” by his “forever antagonist,” and that going forward, his and Amy’s lives together will be “one long frightening climax.” At that point in the novel, the story seems to be over—but the narration switches back over to Amy for one last, brief chapter in which she states that she just wanted to be able to have the last word.
As Amy and Nick wrestle for control both on the page and off, the two of them—both talented writers—demonstrate the knowledge that to finally gain control of their “story” is to gain control of their actual circumstances and shared future. In the end, Amy appears to have won—she is able to successfully wrangle the “last word” for herself, and has forced Nick into the realization that he has lost control not just over the narrative of his own life but of the blueprint for his future. Nick’s final words, however—that his and Amy’s story is just one long and harrowing “climax”—suggests that the struggle to continually claim and reshape their narrative will repeat itself for years to come with no end in sight.
Writing, Storytelling, and Narrative ThemeTracker
Writing, Storytelling, and Narrative Quotes in Gone Girl
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.
“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 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.