Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #127: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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My one coworker keeps asking me why I read such dark books. You know, because I’ve only really told her about this and The Death of Bees. Oh, and I’ve also mentioned my love (now dead) for the television series Dexter, among other things. So I can see where she’s coming from. She just doesn’t have the whole picture. Like I said in an earlier review, I can only tolerate so much “darkness.” When a story seems to exist only to torture its characters in as sadistic a fashion as possible, you’ve probably lost me. You could argue thatBreaking Bad falls into that camp, but Vince Gilligan is too much of a genius for me to care. Every character is morally compromised, and I’m still invested in what happens to all of them. I honestly don’t know how he does it.

Gillian Flynn, by comparison, isn’t quite as talented. None of her characters are likable, nor are they likable in their unlikableness, like some of Breaking Bad‘s characters (namely Walter White). In addition to that, Flynn doesn’t seem to particularly like any of her characters, based upon what they each go through. Libby, for instance, survives the massacre at her house, the only member of her family so lucky, yet she ends up having a couple toes and part of a finger amputated from hiding outside in the snow and cold. Oh, and she also agrees to go be chewed out by people who believe her brother’s innocent, even after the man courting her for this exact purpose spelled out for her precisely what would happen if she came. Apparently, she’s as masochistic as Flynn is sadistic.

Speaking of her brother Ben, who was jailed based upon her testimony, we know he will turn out to be innocent of the crime (because why else would a whole book be devoted to her questioning his guilt if she was right all along?), but we learn he took advantage of a child he was entrusted with teaching. I believe the age gap was something like 5-6 years, with the girl being the same age as his youngest sister, Libby, and him in high school and her in elementary school. She initiated it, yes, but he didn’t stop her, and what started as an innocent kiss turned into full-on snogging that was so hot-and-heavy it made me sick, especially since it was preceded by a line that went something like this: “I didn’t do anything inappropriate with her… but there was this one time when…” Ben, that’s plenty disgusting, and it made me lose all sympathy for you. Even if I had any left, there were other things about you that came out later on that would’ve gotten rid of it too.

Besides that, there’s also the matter of the story itself being unsatisfactory. From the very start, you know Ben’s name will be cleared. There’s no mystery there. And you know all of the theories these people have will turn out to be wrong, Flynn just putting them there to trick us. The only unpredictable aspect of it is exactly what did happen, a series of events that strains belief. Flynn should’ve subscribed more to Occam’s Razor and had Ben be guilty after all, since it would’ve made more sense, despite the conflicting evidence, than what she came up with. Imagine Libby trying to cope with her brother, the one she was starting to care for again, still being guilty after she put herself through all of this. That’s a story I would like to have read.

But, despite the problems I had with it, Flynn is a talented writer. She may not be a spectacular storyteller, yet when it comes to the actual writing part of the equation, she is more than capable. So, while I had some misgivings, Dark Places was still a quick and (mostly) enjoyable read that has me wondering if maybe I should read Gone Girl after all, even though all signs point to it not being my sort of book. Wherever I go from here, all I know is that Flynn’s only getting one more shot. I’m done wasting my time on authors who don’t deserve it.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

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