Gillian Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, thoroughly impressed me. I loved her ability to take the mundane and turn it grotesque. Flynn’s debut really got me excited to read Dark Places and the much-hyped Gone Girl.
Dark Places goes to some very dark places. So it’s aptly titled. In 1985 a mother and two of her daughters were brutally murdered. The two survivors – seven-year-old Libby and fifteen-year-old Ben – have managed their way into adulthood, but both are deeply scarred. Ben is in prison having been convicted of the murders and Libby is surviving off the funds she’s received from being ‘famous’ for her survival. Libby’s funds are quickly running low so she agrees to speak with and sell childhood memorabilia to a group calling themselves the ‘Kill Club’. What she doesn’t expect is to find a group of strangers obsessed with her family, the murders, and led by the belief that her brother is innocent. They agree to continue paying Libby if she agrees to look into clearing Ben’s name and discovering the truth of what really happened 24 years ago. So the journey begins…
Flynn’s trademark imagery is present again although the notch is definitely turned up. I love how dirty, how scandalizing, and how unapologetic her writing is. The narration is perfectly paced and told surprisingly well through three narrative voices: Libby, present day; Ben, the hours leading up to the murders in 1985; and Patty, the murdered mother in the hours leading up to her demise. Each 1985 timeline is time stamped and the reader is able to countdown the hours until the ultimate doom. Loved that – made the book nearly impossible to put down. Dark Places is also genuinely creepy. I may have yelped more than once when the phone rang while reading. Such a tangible atmosphere which is something I’ve been lacking in my horror reading in the past few years.
What doesn’t work so much is the conclusion. I think Flynn relied far too heavily on the predictable and commercial shock value tropes. Nothing was surprising about the way the novel wrapped-up in the way that Sharp Objects managed. Dark Places lacked a sort of organic feel – it felt manufactured and far too polished. It lacked bite and edge. I think several parts also felt a little lacking. For instance, I’d love to have had more of Ben’s present perspective to better understand the lasting effects of his prison sentence and the guilt he’s lived with. I also missed seeing how the ‘Kill Club’ reacted to the truth once it’s revealed. We never got to see how satisfied or unsatisfied they were with the reality of the events from 1985. Bummer. Perhaps the movie will flesh those parts out a bit more. With the fantastic cast signed on, I can only hope.
Have you read any of Flynn’s novels besides Gone Girl? Which is your favorite? Are you looking forward to the film versions of Dark Places and Gone Girl?