You couldn't ask for a clearer portrait of the All-American Girl than Amy Elliott Dunne. She's funny, smart, has a great personality, and in the appearance department, she's a total number one stunner. Oh, and did we mention that she was the inspiration for the popular (fictional) children's book series Amazing Amy? That's right, Shmoopsters—when it comes to finding your dream girl, Amy fits the bill.
At least she seems to. In reality though, when Electric Light Orchestra wrote "Evil Woman", they probably had Amy in mind. She might seem like a good girl, but she's actually a master manipulator, an expert at mind games, and always gets her way—no matter what.
Being the real-life version of a beloved fictional character really damages Amy's sense of adequacy. Perfectionism is a common trait of only children, but Amy's literary alter ego—who is always charming, victorious, and, well, amazing—gives her a case of perfectionism on steroids. "I can't fail to notice that whenever I screw something up, Amy does it right," Amy says (4.10) at one point. Amy may be her parents' only daughter, but Amazing Amy is still "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia."
Even as a grown woman, Amy can't shake off the desire to out-amaze Amazing Amy. Nick describes her as "a woman who did a little of everything, all the time" (7.46)—whether it was learning French culinary techniques, becoming fluent in Spanish, gardening, or knitting. "She needed to be Amazing Amy, all the time," Nick adds, explaining that she thrives on making other women jealous and wishing they could only be her. These obviously aren't healthy thought patterns, but for Amy, perfectionism, competition, and love of attention prove to be a deadly concoction.
There's a mega-huge problem with Amy though, one that ends up seriously corrupting her marriage: She's not real. According to Amy, Nick "didn't love me, me. Nick loved a girl who doesn't exist" (30.22). When she fell for Nick, Amy was masquerading as the girl she thought he wanted to be with—a figment of men's imaginations known as Cool Girl.
Amy describes Cool Girl as a hot, sexy woman who is super intelligent, hilarious, and doesn't mind doing guy stuff like watching football, drinking beer, eating lots of fast food, and farting. And in the name of winning Nick over, this is the girl she pretends to be.
For a while, she does a pretty good job of sustaining the act—good enough to progress her relationship with Nick to the living together level—but living with Nick winds up showing her who she really is. Growing up, Amy was aloof and unsociable from living in Amazing Amy's shadow, but Nick's charming personality and wit shows her what happiness really looks like. At the same time, though, playing Cool Girl to Nick's Cool Guy also shows Amy what a lie her personality is.
And when she gives up on being Cool Amy and decides to just be Amy, their marriage "started collapsing on itself" (30.31). Instead of blaming herself for tricking Nick, though, Amy takes his inability to understand who she really is and it becomes the beginning of her plan to cause his downfall.
At the end of the day, Amy's a real head case, but looking at the evolution of her character makes it at least a little easier to understand her obsession with controlling others. It's bad enough that she has a classic case of Spoiled Only Child Syndrome, but hers goes beyond issues of entitlement. She doesn't just want people to give her whatever she wants—she wants total control over their will in doing so, and if she even suspects you of wronging her, the Law of Amy Land states that you must pay. In blood.
Take Andie for instance. If Amy hadn't found out about Nick's affair, she probably wouldn't have gone so far as to frame him for murder. It's the last straw for her after the move to Missouri and Nick's inability to realize that she's been playing the role of Cool Girl all those years. Merely divorcing him won't do the trick though, and as Amy explains, "Nick must be taught a lesson. He's never been taught a lesson" (32.13). In her eyes, extreme revenge—including framing her husband for murder, is completely justified.
Unsurprisingly, given what a perfectionist she is, Amy's plans for Nick aren't just thrown together. Nope—this lady spends a year putting the pieces together carefully, including slowly setting money aside, convincing everyone she has a fear of blood, stealing her pregnant neighbor's pee, and writing a diary that goes back to before she and Nick got married and tells a convincing story of Nick coming unhinged with her (instead of the other way around).
(Psst… We read a good chunk of this diary, and it's how we get to know Amy for the whole first part of the book. This makes Amy an unreliable narrator just like her hubby—for more on that, check out Nick's analysis elsewhere in this section.)
The intensity of her vindictiveness doesn’t just impact Nick's life, though—Amy's even willing to kill herself to ensure that justice, as she understands it, is served. And though she ultimately doesn't kill herself, she upends her entire life, which is plenty extreme in its own right. And all to get back at her husband for not knowing that the Amy she pretended to be all those years isn't who she actually is—if that's not dedication, we don't know what is. She might look like a good girl, but her insides ooze hatred.
The most dangerous thing about Amy is that she will do absolutely anything, including lying, blackmailing, and even committing murder, to get people to submit to her. She wants to see Nick on death row for cheating on her, tries to control her neighbors at the cabin complex when she runs away, and kills Desi so she can pin her disappearance on him. The worst part? This woman is now about to become a mother through a pregnancy she caused on purpose to keep Nick on a leash. Wow. Amy's definitely amazing—but not in the way her parents intended.