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?
So much hype has surrounded Gillian Flynn’s name recently. I purposefully avoided reading Gone Girl because I didn’t want my expectations to overshadow the reading experience. So I decided to start with her first novel, Sharp Objects, and read my way forward. My only real expectation for Flynn’s debut was that the subject matter would be dark – very dark. Which it was. Some of those images are permanently etched into my brain.
Camille Preaker is a journalist for a little read paper in Chicago. Her editor assigns her the job of reporting on two murders in small town Missouri, Camille’s hometown. In addition to discovering the nasty truth behind the grizzly murders of the two young girls, Camille must also come to terms with her own dark past if she ever hopes to move forward and live any sort of normal life. Her family is also batshit bonkers.
The only word that keeps coming to mind is disturbing. Where does Flynn get her ideas from? The creepiness in her novel doesn’t feel like fiction – her gritty imagery feels REAL. Real in a way I can’t honestly describe, but it gets up under your skin and lives there. She’ll lure you in with simple violence and then smack you across the face with visceral shock value. Her characters are layered, complex, and deeply insane. It’s like she’s cut humanity open and allowed the blackened guts of evil to splatter grotesquely at her readers’ feet. I loved the entire experience of Sharp Objects which makes me wonder about my own sanity.
What works most for me is Camille. She’s a strong protagonist – a fighter, a survivor. Her psychological damage is obvious and subtle all at once. She’s not someone you could be friends with, but she’s someone you can come to respect and feel deeply for. Flynn writes her flawlessly and I wonder just how much of Camille resembles Flynn. She just seems to know her subject matter so well.
The only real complaint I have is that the end seemed sort of rushed and oddly choppy. Not a huge problem though because most of the novel flowed well and the pages turned very quickly. I also wouldn’t recommend this novel to everyone because the subject matter is intense, the imagery cringe-worthy, and the story not at all for the faint of heart. But if you enjoy a great psychologically disturbing, dark and twisty story – give this one a try!
I haven’t placed an online book order in a long while – discounting the books I buy for book club, obviously. This little spending splurge felt great because there was no guilt involved. With my book spending habits seriously in check these past few months, I could order these gems with a light heart. So what did I get?
Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson – I’ve wanted to read something by Jackson for quite a while. Many fellow bloggers sing nothing but her praises. Plus, there’s the added bonus of being from Georgia, not too far from Between. It’s a tiny little town nestled away on Hwy. 78 between Athens and Atlanta. Jimmy and I always giggled at the name when we rode through. I know I’ve been less than thrilled with the southern novels I’ve read this year, but I’m hoping I’ll find a winner here!
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn – With Gone Girl garnering so much attention and praise, I’ve been super excited about getting to know Flynn as an author. Instead of beginning with Gone Girl, I thought I’d reach back a bit further in her catalog and get better acquainted with her style first.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach – I admit to being a Mary Roach virgin, but have long wanted to dive into one of her fascinating books. And let’s face it – dead bodies are intriguing things. Or perhaps I’m just kind of a creepy person? I did want to be a forensic pathologist at one point. Anyway, I know I’ll love this book.
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin – Don’t worry. I’m not going to be reading this one anytime soon, but I wanted it on the shelf for when I’m ready to go back to Westeros. Probably won’t be until next year or even the year after that. I’ve heard some seriously mixed reviews. The 4th and 5th books were actually supposed to be one novel originally, but Martin didn’t think an 1800 page book was a good idea – so he split them in two. This means Crows lacks three of my favorite characters almost entirely. Not sure how I feel about that.
Let me know your thoughts and opinions on any of my selections! With the overflowing TBR shelf, I probably won’t be getting around to any of these titles soon – unless you think one of them is a must read!