For several years, I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child's boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense, blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative. (11.8)
Because Nick's a writer, he views society's condition through the eyes of someone creative. With the loss of his job—and the downfall of his profession—Nick feels that there's nothing left to make life new, no innovative ideas that can be shaped through language. The domination of technology and the Internet, as well as economic circumstances, have left him feeling rather hopeless.
So it had to stop. Committing to Nick, feeling safe with Nick, being happy with Nick, made me realize that there was a Real Amy in there, and she was so much better, more interesting and complicated and challenging, than Cool Amy […] Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your spouse, your soul mate, and having him not like you? (30.32)
We've all pretended to be somebody else for the purposes of making people like us—but eventually we get tired of sustaining the act. When Amy finally gets sick of being Cool Amy though, she's been married almost five years and a serious relationship has already formed around that personality. We really can't blame Nick for "not liking" Real Amy—after all, we don't like her much either.
Everywhere I go is the river. I'm following it or it's following me. (42.1)
In the "Symbolism" section we talk about how the Mississippi River represents the characters' troubled relationship. Amy and Nick live directly next to the river; Amy plots to send Nick "up the river"; and now, as she attempts to revise her plans after Jeff and Greta rob her, the truth of what she's doing to Nick begins to haunt her. She may have thought that her plan would be the thing to finally bring her satisfaction, but obviously, she's very wrong.
"I can ruin you, Nick."
"You already did, Amy." I see the rage flash over him, a shiver. "Why in God's name do you even want to be with me? I'm boring, average, uninteresting, uninspiring. I'm not up to par. You spent the last few years telling me this."
"Only because you stopped trying," I say. "You were so perfect with me. We were so perfect when we started, and then you stopped trying. Why would you do that?"
"I stopped loving you." (56.7-10)
Wow. If this exchange just makes you feel completely sad for these people, we can't blame you. Amy and Nick's first encounter alone in their home after she escapes from (and kills) Desi reveals a lot about the flaws that have existed in their marriage pretty much since day one. Their biggest problem is that they allowed their relationship to tank by not putting any effort into it and working through their issues. Instead, they become disenchanted with each other, which only makes the problems that follow harder to overcome.
I was about to say what an idiot I was, not listening to [Go] about the booze.
"I would have finished the bottle, too." She patted my back. (9.46-47)
We hope you've read enough books to know this already, but drowning your problems in alcoholic beverages never does anything good for anybody. Ever. Fictional characters seem especially susceptible to the menaces of this avoidance behavior. Rather than directly face his problems, Nick sees booze as a place to hide from his discontent.
"I mean, that's what I'm worried about," I said. "Guys are camped out everywhere. This whole town is overrun with pissed off, unemployed people. (11.4)
Nick isn't the only one in this book who's frustrated by the economic downturn—North Carthage itself seems like a cesspool of downtrodden, discontent people the recession has smacked in the face. The general mood of the town, from the line of unemployed guys waiting to kill time at The Bar to the abandoned houses in Nick's development, is one of deep sorrow and anger. You're probably not going to cancel your Spring Break cruise plans and head to Missouri instead.
A few weeks in, the bustling stopped, the usefulness stopped […] He woke up dull-eyed. Now he watches TV, surfs porn, watches porn on TV. He eats a lot of delivery food, the Styrofoam shells propped up near the overflowing trash can. He doesn't talk to me, as if the act of talking physically pains him and I am a vicious woman to ask it of him. (12.10)
Nick may face being laid off with dignity at first, but his attempts to learn another language and read War and Peace eventually deteriorate into the "malaise" he describes earlier in the book. As with the drinking, Nick begins to numb his dissatisfaction with his circumstances by engaging in destructive habits like porn, overeating, and not talking to his wife.
The barrier gate to the Mervyn's had been busted through, so the store was open as wide and welcoming as the morning of a President's Day sale […]. A few guys barely opened an eye as we passed, others were out cold. In a far corner, two kids not long out of their teens were maniacally reciting the Gettysburg Address. Now we are engaged in a great civil war. (15.138)
When was the last time you saw bizarre characters like this while kicking it at the mall? Flynn's haunting descriptions of North Carthage's decrepit, abandoned shopping center go a long way toward capturing the discontented mood of the town. Drug addicts, dealers, homeless people, manic teenagers, and gangs all congregate in what was once the economic hub of the town.
"You don't have to answer, but I'm going to guess no. Amy was not happy. For whatever reason. I'm not even going to ask. I can guess, but I'm not going to ask. But I know you must know this: Amy likes to play God when she's not happy. Old Testament God." (37.110)
We know from our discussion of "Revenge" as a theme that Amy is addicted to making people pay for even the slightest infraction against her. One of the roots of that vengefulness, though, is her own dissatisfaction with her life. She doesn't just end relationships when she gets tired of them or when people do things that insult her—she pours her wrath on them.
I began to think of Andie as an escape, an opportunity. An option. I'd come home to find Amy in a tight ball on the sofa […] I would think: Andie wouldn't do that. As if I knew Andie. (19.42)
We kind of get why Nick starts chasing another woman. His marriage is in shambles and Amy's become distant, depressed, and completely uninterested in him. Nick may claim to love Andie, but in reality, she's just another one of his escapist vices, along with porn, alcohol, and reading back issues of his old magazine.