Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places is full of icky everyday life moments that you don’t want to think about. These moments are mankind-ugly and don’t even expound on the question of existence and life, they’re simply acts everyday people do without thinking about it because at the core, we’re mammals. While simple things, like picking your nose in public, is culturally shunned, usually you’re just trying to get the damned booger out. Other writers take it a step farther by eating the booger while the Flynn-types go to the extreme by eating the booger, hawking it back up again, and spitting it into someone’s face. There’s a point where you have to wonder if people really are that mean, that lonely, that scared, and honestly I have to say yes. It’s just hard to write them because it’s something you generally don’t want to look at. You don’t want to look at that Devil worshiping man who spits loogies at pitbulls because he likes to watch them leap up and try to catch the snot in the mouth. Gillian Flynn takes a good hard look at those people, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable, but her gaze has such scrutiny in it.
I mean, it’s all in the first few sentences:
I have a meanness inside me, real as any organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it.
I haven’t read any Flynn before this, but after reading Dark Places I really want to. Honestly, the crime/mystery horror isn’t really my genre to begin with and I’m not sure if that’s because there are so many that are done poorly, or if its because I can’t handle the addictive twist in my gut when I feel something bad is going to happen and I’m looking around every which corner waiting for it. I probably won’t pick up one Gone Girl (because I saw the movie and some of the best parts is the anticipation), but Sharp Objects has definitely risen in the ranks of books I need to read immediately.
Dark Places jumps between present time and a single day in 1985: the last day of the Day family before the mother, Patty, and her two daughters, Michelle and Debby, were slaughtered, presumably by the eldest brother, Ben. Libby Day, the youngest, survived and testified that Ben was the killer. She believed this truth until a group called the Kill Club pays her to investigate her own family’s murder. Needing the money, Libby reluctantly agrees and sets out on a quest to uncover what really happened that night. She ends up working through the people related to the case, questioning what they know and what they said, all the while uncovering her own misconceptions about the murder and whodunit.
I’m not going to spoil the story (or at least I don’t think I will), but I have to admit I’m in a certain awe about her writing style. It’s simple, but it packs one hell of a punch in a visceral way. While the story may not be the most original thing out there, something about all of the characters’ desperation addresses issues we’ve all probably felt at some point or another: trying to understand why you’re lonely with people you love, trying to get why you made the choices you did, trying to understand what fundamental wrong is in your genetic makeup that allows so much bad to happen, how people can be so cruel to each other, and even how the aftermath of sex (all those hormones going wild) can be the most depressing thing in the end. How it’s the bad that sticks with us, the unseemly that gets passed down, the ugly that you want to live up to. I’m thinking of Ben here, thinking of how he absolutely hated his father but couldn’t stop wanting to live up to Runner’s expectations—make the drunk gambler proud. When I think of Patty, I think of how she wanted to be worthy of her life, and that she just didn’t have the ‘stuff’ to survive the farming world she’d been dropped and raised. How Libby just couldn’t figure out how to look past the fear to grow up and how she only started to when she had to put one foot in front of the other with Lyle at her side. It’s heartbreaking when Krissy Cates told Libby “No one ever forgives me for anything,” and while forgiveness is the spoon fed twisted moral to this sad story, I think the hope of forgiveness is main point of the book instead of the act itself. Do I think Ben and Libby will forgive Patty? I think they’ll say the words, but they can’t own it in their hearts. While Krissy committed a horrible accusation when she was younger, I don’t believe she’ll ever truly come back from it. The people who can’t forgive her won’t let her–and surprisingly, it was her story that really made my gut wrench.
A lot of the characters’ actions are motivated by ignorance, or stupidity, or the requirement of a bird’s eye view. Most of the time I wanted to shake Ben, slap him hard across the face and scream at him to wake up. Like, are kids really that…dumb? With Patty, I wanted to do something similar, tell her to wake up from her troubles and explain that while it may be bad now, maybe she could get out and find something different. I hate the decision she made down to the core of my being, because I believe you fight for your kids even if they’re no good. They need you more than anyone else in the world even when it doesn’t feel like it, but I hate putting that much guilt on her. I can’t imagine being in her shoes because it would be so awful if I had to eat my words.
If you want heartache, this is the place to find it. And Flynn does an acceptable job at pacing to keep you turning the pages.
On a side note, I entered one of my manuscripts into Pitch Wars (hosted by Brenda Drake). It was a bit nerve-wracking and I can’t stop updating my stupid Twitter feed (I think that’s the most I’ve been on Twitter my whole life), but even if nothing comes of it, at least I tried! If I’m not selected I’m going to attempt the PitchMad she hosts in February.
It’s back to the Dark Tower for me. I believe I’ve vented enough about what I hope won’t happen in Song of Susannah in the last Dark Tower review, so let’s see what I’m in for. Plus, I have a long plane ride and need something to keep me entertained.