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When People Don’t Act Like Themselves

This question is part of the GRAB(ook) Club, an online book club open to anyone and everyone.  It contains more than a few spoilers for Gone Girl, so read at your own peril.  No, really, stop reading this post if you plan on reading Gone Girl.

I’ve already written on how I feel about the infertility and treatment protocol plot points.  (For the record, though I’m picking at this book, I really did enjoy it.  The writing is brilliant, the characters well-drawn, the pacing perfect.)

But there’s another discrepancy I found while reading the book: Amy didn’t always act like Amy.

I mean, she acted Amy-ish, but she departed from herself in an enormous way, and I don’t have a good explanation for why.

We’re told that she punished Hilary Handy for some pretty mild transgressions.  She forgot to wait for her after English (twice).  Forgot she was allergic to strawberries (also twice).  So Amy plotted to make her look like a stalker and succeeded in the most brilliant way.

Then we’re told that she punished Tommy O’Hara just a few years before Nick and Amy got together.  After three months of casual dating, he starts to pull away and see other people.  Amy finds out and she pins a rape on him.  Again, an intricate plot that is put into effect pretty much instantaneously.

And then she punishes Nick for his affair with Andie.  It takes her a year to plot it — the year leading up to their 5-year anniversary.  So from year 4 to year 5 of marriage, Amy plots.

Not really acting like Amy.

It’s two-fold: one, Amy is someone who likes immediate gratification.  She executes those other plans fairly quickly — in under a month for at least one of them.  Maybe two months for the other.  And with framing Nick, she is jumping out of her skin to find out what happens after the plan goes into effect.  This is not someone who is detached and calm; she is anxious to see him punished.  So she waits a year?  I mean, yes, obviously waiting a year makes for a more intricate plan, but would Amy — the Amy we know in the book — really wait a year to punish someone?  She wouldn’t rush things along a bit?  She’d keep sleeping next to him, never goaded to speed things along, every time he comes home smelling like Andie?

Fine, I could see a really good plan that takes a long time to set up being intriguing for Amy.  She’s also fenced in by the date of their anniversary if she wants to use that as part of the plan.   But we find out that she punishes Hilary for some very small transgressions: not waiting after class.  I’m willing to accept that in the high school years that could be a big deal.  But with Tommy, she’s an adult.  It’s under two years before she meets Nick.  She punishes Tommy for going out on a date with another girl after they’ve been casually dating for three months.  A huge punishment — rape charges.

But she waits until Nick has an affair, overlooking all the other transgressions that came before that point: being remote, being critical, being thoughtless, being cruel.  Not being the man she thinks she deserves.  Moving her away from New York without allowing her to be part of the discussion.  He pisses her off for years we’re told in the second half of the book.

Why doesn’t she punish him sooner?

Why does she wait for the affair to punish him?

Are we to believe that she loves Nick so much that she’s willing to overlook all those other things that would have pushed her over the edge if it had been another person?  If she is a psychopath, would she understand love in the first place?

In this tiny way, she ceases to act like Amy, something humans do all the time.  We regularly do things “out of character,” hence why humans are unpredictable.  So it wasn’t a deal breaker for me in the book, but I found myself distracted through the second half of the book, wondering why it took her so long to turn on Nick.  Why she acted out of character this one time when it came to doling out the punishments.

What did you think?  Did that seem out of character to you?  Why do you think she waited to punish Nick?

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for Gone Girl.  You can get your own copy of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn at bookstores including Amazon.

7 comments

1 Vivian { 11.07.13 at 8:20 am }

Excellent questions. I think part of Amy’s behavior relates to the fact that her parents constantly used her as the “model” for their children’s books. As a result Amy grew up being on display. This may have contributed to her notion that if people didn’t tow the line then they must pay. If she delays her “gratification” then her friends, family, etc. may not associate it as punishment for their so-called crimes against Amy. I thought that in many ways Amy epitomized the axiom that revenge/vengeance is a dish best served cold. She takes time to think about then plot out the most disturbing punishment possible, all the while she continues to act as expected.

2 a { 11.07.13 at 8:29 am }

See, now this, I have something to say about!

I think that, in the case of Nick, this was not out of character for Amy. He was hers completely – the others were not so much. She could overlook minor transgressions, because I think she could identify with many of those traits that he was showing. In addition, she was clearly in control of all other aspects of their lives. Until she wasn’t – and that required some serious, major revenge. It couldn’t be anything as simple as a trumped up criminal charge – it had to be life-altering in an inescapable way. And that requires some really elaborate planning. I also think that she enjoyed watching people squirm, and Nick was sort of already squirming. Finally, I think that the move played a part in the whole thing – she needed plenty of time to establish her persona with the people in Missouri. Without an image to refer to, people might have been more likely to believe whatever Nick said, since he was the local. Small town society works in mysterious ways. So, no, I didn’t think it was out of character for Amy to delay her gratification here…

They’ve been filming the movie down in Missouri, and it’s been getting a little bit of news coverage lately. Ironically, Ben Affleck (who will be portraying Nick), who is a huge Red Sox fan, was photographed during the World Series wearing a Cardinals shirt. I’m sure that must have been painful for him!

3 anexpatinuk { 11.07.13 at 8:46 am }

This wasn’t anything I thought about while reading the book. I believe Amy wanted to be sure to have him on his own and for him to stay with her no matter what. And that’s why the plotting over such a long time took place, for it to work out perfect in her favour with no escaping for him without major consequences. That’s the only reason I can think of anyway.

Looking forward to see how the film turn out.

4 Katherine A { 11.07.13 at 9:57 am }

I kind of wondered if the time Amy took planning her revenge had a lot to do with her preoccupation with presenting a perfect image to the world. That she was willing to somewhat overlook Nick’s earlier transgressions because she didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that beautiful-looking marriage, and punishing him for small things would probably have blown it up. With her having a public image as “Amazing Amy”, someone would have reported on it, and amazing Amy just can’t be having sordid marital problems, right?

I think Nick’s affair probably was simply too much to overlook, and it threatened that perfect marriage image so badly – after all, what if the press or anyone had gotten wind of it – that Amy had to think up a more careful plot than usual to retain her image. By doing what she did, all the mud falls on Nick no matter what comes out at that point. He’s the monster, having an affair that murdered his beautiful, perfect wife. She’s the blameless victim. Amy certainly, I think, wanted to punish Nick badly. But her image is also such a central part of her that she had to come up with a way to preserve that while still damaging Nick horribly. The revenge had to be perfect in every aspect to fulfill both of Amy’s twisted motivations, so it would take time for her to make sure everything was thought out, no detail left out.

Thought provoking question!

5 KeAnne { 11.07.13 at 10:20 am }

Interesting post. I wonder if the deviation is a deliberate on Amy’s part or an authorial mistake. Did Flynn notice the immediacy of Amy’s punishments in the earlier cases but not realize it didn’t match up with how she was developing the plot and was out of character for Amy?

6 jjiraffe { 11.07.13 at 10:43 am }

OK, so you touch on one of my biggest problems with the book: who is Amy? We are presented by many different versions of her: her own versions (including two different Amy’s Nick saw: the Amy he fell in love with wasn’t the “real” Amy either by her own admission, but a romcom version of herself designed to get a boyfriend), Nick’s version. Then there’s the Amy her parents crafted into their own profitable creation.

In the end, I never bought ANY version of Amy as a character. And I didn’t like any of the versions of Amy we were presented with either, but that’s a totally different discussion…

7 Sharon { 11.07.13 at 11:27 am }

I was never completely sure who the “real” Amy was, actually. But I think that she was able to delay her desire for revenge against Nick because of her commitment to their marriage–or at least her idea of it–and because of her mixed feelings about him. I think that, despite the fact that he didn’t live up to her expectations, she still loved him in her way. She didn’t feel that way about the other people upon whom she had exacted revenge.

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