Gillian Flynn took the bestseller list by storm this summer with “Gone Girl,” a clever and well-written thriller about a marriage gone horribly wrong. Or, more jaded readers could argue, a piercing indictment of marriage as an institution.
I liked “Gone Girl” a lot, despite coming away from reading it kind of bummed out. So reading Flynn’s two earlier books, “Sharp Objects” and “Dark Places,” became a priority for me.
I’ve just finished her 2009 novel “Dark Places” and it wins the truth in advertising award. It’s pretty damn dark.
If you haven’t read it in the past three years you might now that the publisher is giving it a push in conjunction with the huge success of “Gone Girl.” At Target, for example, the three books are side by side on the shelves.
And honestly that push is appropriate because “Dark Places” is very true to Flynn’s style and tone.
“Dark Places” does for family life what “Gone Girl” did for marriage. In other words, makes you reconsider the institution.
“Dark Places” follows the life of Libby Day, a 30-something survivor of a horrific childhood trauma. In 1985, when Libby was 7 and living in Missouri, her mother and two sisters were brutally killed by a late-night intruder in their home. Libby escaped the house that cold night although she lost fingers and toes to frostbite and over-zealous medical treatment.
Libby helped authorities convict her 15-year-old brother, Ben, of killing their mother and two sisters. Ben was sentenced to life in prison.
In the decades since, Libby has drifted through life in a depressed haze. She’s lived off donations for the orphan of the “Missouri massacre” but the money is running out.
So when Libby is approached by the “Kill Club,” a group of people obsessed with murders from recent history, she jumps at the chance to make some money by selling family memories.
Before long Libby is going to prison to see her brother for the first time since the trial and even searching the Plains States for her father, Runner, a good-for-nothing type who some of Ben’s supporters in the Kill Club consider the true killer of the Day family.
Flynn takes Libby and readers to some pretty low places in a search for dollars that gradually turns into a search for truth. Chapters flash back and forth from Libby’s perspective to that of her brother and mother in the days leading up to the 1985 mass murders. It’s a technique that I don’t usually like but Flynn does it very well here.
Flynn does resort to some of the tactics that I don’t like about modern mysteries (multiple culprits, multiple solutions) but the strength of the book isn’t the mystery, strangely enough, but the characters. Watching her story unfold is a little like watching a slow-motion car accident. You care about these characters and what’s happening to them at the same time you’re horrified. But you can’t look away.
It’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood treats Flynn’s books. Reese Witherspoon is apparently adapting “Gone Girl” and I’ve read there’s a movie version of “Dark Places” underway starring Amy Adams. The role of Libby isn’t one that you would expect an actress like Adams to play, so it makes me wonder if the movie won’t turn Libby into a typical Lifetime movie heroine.