I contain and compartmentalize to a disturbing degree: In my belly-basement are hundreds of bottles of rage, despair, fear, but you'd never guess from looking at me […] It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just starting. (5.70, 73)
It's no secret that Amy's got major issues, but Nick's not that much better. His talent at burying his emotions—a skill undoubtedly learned from his father—is part of what makes him such a convincing liar. As he'll later admit, he's no match for Amy's art of dishonesty, but his ability to hide his feelings definitely makes him pretty good at it.
"People want to believe they know other people. Parents want to believe they know their kids. Wives want to believe they know their husbands." (13.31)
It's pretty significant that this quote comes from Detective Boney, who not only wants to believe the best about Nick, but comes from a marriage broken by infidelity. Doesn't it also kind of describe us as readers, though? Even with all his faults, we still can't help wanting to believe that Nick didn't kill Amy. Sometimes we can't help but hope for the best in people, even when they're lying straight to our faces.
I'm a big fan of the lie of omission. (17.125)
We've got bad news for you, Mr. Dunne—leaving out details when you talk to the cops still counts as lying. Nick loves to come up with rationalizations and justifications for his lies. In this case, if you don't tell people about something, it never happened. Or, alternatively: Whatever Happens in North Carthage Stays in North Carthage.
I have a mistress. Now is the part where I tell you I have a mistress and you stop liking me. If you liked me to begin with. (19.2)
How did you feel when you got to this part of the book? We here at Shmoop let out a collective oh no he did not. It's pretty significant that Nick not only lies to his sister, Amy, and the cops, but to us as well. It's the moment that makes us, as he even states, begin to question his true motives—if he's lied about having a mistress, how can we possibly believe he hasn't lied about other things (like, say, murdering his wife)?
He pauses, and I know he is about to lie. The worst feeling: when you just have to wait and prepare yourself for the lie […] He begins his lie. I don't even listen. (20.39-40)
Ouch. You know your marriage is packed with dishonesty when you know your husband is lying before he even begins to do it. As messed up as she is, this is a point where it's easy to feel sorry for Amy for being married to a guy for whom lying and cheating is a way of life. But wait—this is from Amy's diary… so perhaps this is a lie in its own right.
I was speaking loudly, I realized, and I sounded almost angry, certainly righteous, but it was such a relief. I'd started with a lie—the cat box—and turned that into a surprising burst of pure truth, and I realized why criminals talked too much, because it feels so good to tell your story to a stranger. (23.101)
Did you know that lying literally stresses you out? The process of planning, telling, and keeping up a lie triggers the release of extra stress hormones, which over time can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, lowered immune system functions, and all kinds of good stuff. Eventually, some people reach a point where maintaining the lie becomes too much work and they emotionally explode. That's probably what's happening to Nick in this confrontation with the cops.
Don't fret, we'll sort this out: the true and the not true and the might as well be true. (30.3)
If you want to talk about lies, let's talk about the gigantic whopper Amy orchestrates when she fakes her disappearance. She pretends to be another person for an entire year, writes a fake diary, tells her neighbor awful Nick abuse stories, and then pretends to be another different person when she goes into hiding. Now that's commitment to deception.
"The bigger the lie, the more they believe it." (55.115-117)
This is not only the sociopath's maxim, but also pretty much Amy's philosophy of life. There aren't enough quote blurbs in the world to describe all the ways she crafts gigantic lies that take advantage of, set up, and even kill people who have dared to get in her way. As if that's not enough, she makes her lies totally foolproof, even to the point of physically harming herself, as in the cases of Hilary Handy, Jacqueline Collings, and Tommy O'Hara.
The baby was a lie. It was the most desolate part for me. My wife as a murderer was frightening, repulsive, but the baby as a lie was almost impossible to bear. The baby was a lie, the fear of blood was a lie—during the past year, my wife had been mostly a lie. (55.68)
It's easy to genuinely feel sad for Nick at this point in the story. His reactions to Amy's story clearly capture the emotional consequences of her behavior. Imagine being told, after all the anguish of dealing with your wife's personality issues, after cheating on her, after the stress of her disappearance and learning she was pregnant, that all of it was phony. It's one of the few times in the book when readers can feel true sympathy for Nick.