Book Reviews

Book Review: Dark Places


I went out of order reading Gillian Flynn’s books. I started with Gone Girl because I wanted to make sure I read it before I saw the movie. Enjoyed both versions, minus the endings.

Then I went for Sharp Objects because it was the first. Thought it was somewhat predictable but an original story that took some guts to conquer.

Finally, I got around to this one. Overall, I enjoyed the story. Little Libby is the lone survivor of a brutal family murder (mother and sisters), for which her brother is blamed. Her testimony as a seven year old is what sealed his fate and she’s grown up as a kid who acted out in spectacular fashion because she didn’t know how to deal with such a terrible thing. She abandons people before they can abandon her, she avoids any version of real life she can, getting by financially on royalties from a book she “wrote” about her family’s murders. We meet her when she’s on her last pennies and faced with the prospect of having to get a real job or become homeless.

Enter a “kill club.” A group of people who are into solving cases they believe were botched or are unsolved entirely. There’s an entire group of people who focus and get together to discuss her family’s case. She shows up to a meeting for money (because it has to be better than a real job) and gets berated for falsely accusing her brother of murder, theories thrown in her face that it was her father, that it was another person, but basically everything she’s known growing up is potentially a lie. Enter anger, confusion, and your basic life tailspin one would expect.

She reluctantly agrees to help this group investigate their theories, for more money of course. There’s a lot of effort to avoid being normal. This takes her on a journey to visit her brother in prison for the first time; to find her dead beat, alcoholic, worthless scammer of a father; and a few somewhat unexpected characters along the way.

The narrative jumps between Libby’s POV in present time and then between her brother Ben’s and her mother Patty’s POV at different times of the day leading up to the murders. It’s a good way to tell the story–it gives details that Libby would never be able to uncover in a realistic sense, but still allows you into the minds of Patty and Ben to show how perspectives can mean all the difference, and how one small mistake can have massive consequences.

The ending was by far Flynn’s most tidy. It wasn’t disappointing but it felt like a formula story where every loose end gets tied up in a nice bow and leaves the reader wondering nothing about the characters. I think that does a disservice to the reader–total resolution feels disingenuous.

And bear with me, but despite the mass murder, the internal and external turmoils of Libby seemed much more toned down than Flynn’s other characters. It felt like it was trying to appeal to a wider audience, to people who are less comfortable with messy. But I like messy and it’s not something you can dip your toe in the shallow end of the pool and do it justice. This is very close, but it’s not quite there. I want something called Dark Places to make me feel uncomfortable when I read those crucial parts.

It was still an enjoyable read–Flynn does a really great job switching between characters and giving them a unique voice, as she did in Gone Girl. I like the overreaching plot and the questions it asks behind the scenes, how such an awful situation affects  people in different ways, and how a seemingly simple situation can get so screwed up, far beyond anyone ever intended.

This wasn’t a story, however, where I felt compelled to figure out the hints being dropped before the ending. I was content being led to the conclusion page by page. But who wants to figure out EVERY book before the ending anyway?

I have not watched the film version, and based on the reviews I’ve read, I’ll probably skip it. One of the main details of Libby (and her mother and brother) is her striking red hair. It’s part of what defines her character in the story. And it’s also important that she’s a very short woman–two things Charlize Theron didn’t or can’t do for the role. Without even seeing a preview, that’s a bad sign.

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