This is one of the most entertaining and smartest fictional works I’ve read in awhile. Part one: boy loses girl, wherein we meet Nick and Amy, a New York couple transplanted to the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri. Jobless after the Great Recession, Nick and Amy flee the city after Nick’s mom reveals her aggressive cancer, returning to (ostensibly) take care of her. Nick borrows the last chunk of money from Amy’s trust fund (royalties accrued to her from her parents’ wildly successful children’s book series, Amazing Amy) to open a bar with his twin sister. They name it The Bar. Nick gets a call from a neighbor that his front door is open and the cat has escaped, so he heads back to find signs of a struggle and no Amy. He’s immediately a suspect (husbands always are), not helped by his awkward habit of smiling to make everyone feel comfortable. The chapters volley back and forth between the day of Amy’s disappearance (and aftermath) and the story of Nick and Amy meeting, coupling, marrying, moving to Mizzou, as told through Amy’s diary. Once we’re near present time, she hints at feeling unsafe with Nick and wanting to buy a gun. We also find that Nick is having an affair with Andie, a 23-year-old student in the journalism class he taught, and it’s been going on for almost a year and he’s considering divorcing Amy when she disappears.
Things look very grim for the couple as we approach Part two: boy meets girl. Wherein we find out that all the diary entries in part 1 were painstakingly faked by Amy over the prior year as she laid out a meticulous plan to have Nick arrested for her murder (which she’d also faked). Brilliant planning over the course of a year ever since she saw Nick leaving the bar with Andie, laying her revenge out diabolically. Amy reveals herself to have been playing a role, that of “Cool Girl”, which Nick fell in love with and then fell out of love with when she tried to show him who she really was.
That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
She goes into hiding with a money belt stuffed full of cash, attracting the attention of her hillbilly neighbors who then steal it from her. She watches as Nick gets pilloried by the press, and falls for his messages calling for her to come back home (this part seemed a bit thin for me– she’s going to fall for that? but then it ends up being true, so…. I dunno).
I’m not sure, exactly, how to be Dead Amy. I’m trying to figure out what that means for me, what I become for the next few months. Anyone, I suppose, except people I’ve already been: Amazing Amy. Preppy ’80s Girl. Ultimate Frisbee Granola and Blushing Ingenue and Witty Hepburnian Sophisticate. Brainy Ironic Girl and Boho Babe (the latest version of Frisbee Granola). Cool Girl and Loved Wife and Unloved Wife and Vengeful Scorned Wife. Diary Amy… I hope you liked Diary Amy. She was meant to be likable. Meant for someone like you to like her. She’s easy to like. I’ve never understood why that’s considered a compliment – that just anyone could like you.
And a little of Nick’s voice:
I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.