Amy peered at the crepe sizzling in the pan and licked something off her wrist. She looked triumphant, wifely. If I took her in my arms, she would smell like berries and powdered sugar. (1.26)
It's interesting that the first time Amy makes an appearance in the story, she's doing something extremely sweet and feminine, almost Donna Reed-ish. Amy, however, is far from being a loving, submissive 1950s housewife—she's more like Donna Reed with a machete.
Go is slender and strange-faced, which is not to say unattractive. Her features just take a moment to make sense: the broad jaw; the pinched, pretty nose; the dark globe eyes. If this were a period movie, a man would tilt back his fedora, whistle at the sight of her, and say, "Now there's a helluva broad!" The face of a '30s screwball-movie queen doesn't always translate into our pixie-princess times. (3.2)
Nick's description of Go provides an interesting commentary on how our culture's definition of beauty has changed for women. As he suggests, at one time she may have been seen as quite attractive.
What's kind of fascinating, though, is that the description also sets up her role as one of the only strong, well-adjusted female characters in the book. She's sure of herself and is okay with being different and standing out in a crowd. That's a sharp contrast to Amy, who wants to hide in whatever persona she deems appropriate. No wonder they don't really like each other.
[Boney] was surprisingly ugly—brazenly, beyond the scope of everyday ugly […] I have an affinity for ugly women. I was raised by a trio of women who were hard on the eyes—my grandmother, my mother, her sister—and they were all smart and kind and funny and sturdy, good, good women. Amy was the first pretty girl I ever dated, really dated. (5.16)
No matter how much Nick wants to believe he's escaped becoming the kind of man his father was, his initial reaction to Boney gives him away—he's got a streak of misogyny in him too. In this case, his reaction to Boney could be related to the position of power she's in as a cop.
[Amy's] obsessions tended to be fueled by competition: She needed to dazzle men and jealous-ify women: Of course Amy can cook French cuisine and speak fluent Spanish and garden and knit and run marathons and day-trade stocks and fly a plane and look like a runway model doing it. She needed to be Amazing Amy, all the time. Here in Missouri, the women shop at Target, they make diligent, comforting meals, they laugh about how little high school Spanish they remember. Competition doesn't interest them. (7.46)
Amy's competitive instinct kind of makes us want to grab her and shake her and say, "Lady, chill out." It's almost like she deliberately wants other women to not like her so she can gain more attention from men. Or maybe in her eyes, any attention—positive or negative—that puts her in the spotlight is good attention.
I don't think my father's issue was with my mother in particular. He just didn't like women. He thought they were stupid, inconsequential, irritating […] I still remember when Geraldine Ferraro was named the 1984 vice presidential candidate, us all watching it on the news before dinner. My mother, my tiny, sweet mom, put her hand on the back of Go's head and said, Well, I think it's wonderful. And my dad flipped the TV off and said, It's a joke […] Like watching a monkey ride a bike. (9.28)
Wow, Nick wasn't joking around here—his dad really is a chauvinistic creep. Bill's a man with a lot of bad qualities, but the fact that he thinks so little of women under any circumstances is particularly nauseating.
Just then we passed the dark windows of Shoe-Bee-Doo-Be, where my mom had worked for more than half my life. I still remember the thrill of her going to apply for a job at the most wondrous of places—the mall!—leaving one Saturday morning for the job fair in her bright peach pantsuit, a forty-year-old woman looking for work for the first time […] When she announced a week later that she was officially a shoe saleslady, her kids were underwhelmed. (15.102)
The Great Vigilante Mall Search for the Blue Book Boys causes Nick to think back on his mother's first foray into the world outside of being little more than his father's domestic pet. There's something heartbreaking about her excitement about putting on a brand new suit, going to the mall for interviews, and being named a shoe store employee. For Maureen, it's the biggest thing to happen to her in a long time.
Andie was a physical girl, and that's not code for It's all about the sex. She was a hugger, a toucher, she was prone to running her fingers through my hair or down my back in a friendly way. She got reassurance and comfort from touching. And yes, fine, she also liked sex. (19.20)
It's pretty obvious why Nick, an egomaniac down on his luck lately, is attracted to Andie: She gives him a lot of attention, and fawns over him in all kinds of physical ways. The touching serves as a reminder to Nick that someone appreciates him, albeit for the wrong reasons.
Boney was taking turns playing different female characters: powerful woman, doting caregiver, to see what got the best results. (23.67)
Like Go, Boney is one of the book's most fascinating female characters. Nick's description of her here seems startlingly accurate—Boney does appear to be a woman who is trying to navigate her stereotypically masculine job description while dealing with the fallout from her failed marriage. Like Amy, she attempts to play different roles to figure out who she should be at this juncture in her life. The difference is that Boney's actually a responsible adult and isn't looking for anything other than peace with herself.
Gilpin jolted like an invalid woken from an afternoon nap. "You're an old-fashioned guy, right? I'm the same way. I tell my wife all the time […] 'Sweetheart, I'll catch the bad guys […] and you throw some clothes in the washer now and then.' Rhonda, you were married, did you do the domestic stuff at home?"
Boney looked believably annoyed. "I catch bad guys, too, idiot." (23.91-92)
You go, girl. Like Nick and his dad, Gilpin lets his subtly sexist attitude leak out as he attempts to figure out the domestic conflict between Nick and Amy. Perhaps he doesn't mean to insult Boney or demean her position as a female cop, but he definitely does. As much as we'd love to see Boney unleash some of the fury we know she's got in her, she takes the high road, which in this case means settling for calling her partner an idiot. Still, way to go.
The Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They're not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they're pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. (30.24)
Here's what's kind of weird about this: while the book is full of dudes (Nick, Gilpin, Nick's dad) making blanket judgments about women, Amy, in an odd case of reverse sexism, does it too. What's even stranger is that as she disses on Cool Girls, she's actually dissing herself for pretending to be one of them.
Side note: Maybe the Cool Girls and the Blue Book Boys should get together.