I was one of the few people who read Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and didn’t love it. Well, that’s not quite true. I loved the novel until page 412 and then …. seriously?
But I liked it enough to want to read more Gillian Flynn. So I’m starting with her first novel, Sharp Objects.
The main character of Sharp Objects is Camille Preaker, a fledgling reporter at a Chicago newspaper. When two children are murdered in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, Camille is asked to report the story. Seeing a chance to prove her mettle and visit her mother, step father and half-sister, Camille reluctantly agrees.
Once home she soon remembers the things she disliked most about her hometown – the cliques, the bars, the drunks, the sexuality and the violence often went with it. While her hometown is dysfunctional, her home is even more so. Her mother Adora is detached with Camille and infantilizes her daughter Amma, a 13-year-old bully who terrorizes the town and manipulates their mother.
Bit by bit, the crimes are investigated and Camille’s back story is revealed. She is an alcoholic and a cutter, and when she starts to see similarities between the dead girls, her bully half-sister and herself, she is tempted to relapse.
It’s hard to like Camille. She is flawed, both troubled and troubling. She doesn’t seem capable of making any good decisions. Just about the only redeeming thing about her is that she’s trying to redeem herself.
Although the novel is suspenseful, the denouement isn’t much of a surprise, partly because at some point in the novel every character seems capable of the crimes. But what elevates the story over an episode of “Law and Order” or “CSI” is Flynn’s writing. It reminds me of Stephen King – macabre, suspenseful and disquieting. While she imbues some graphic passages with an eerie beauty, she doesn’t shy away from overt sexuality and violence. Much of the novel takes place in Missouri (where Flynn grew up) and as a Midwesterner I can attest that her depiction of the Midwestern small town is spot on. Embarrassingly so. Because of that, I found some humor in the book. But mostly it is dark and chilling.
Personally I find books like Sharp Objects, (I’m thinking Carrie or The Lovely Bones or even The Road) terrifying because the monsters aren’t supernatural. We are the monsters.