Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Novels of Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, and Dark Places

Gillian Flynn likes to write dark, weird stories. And I love her for it.

Last year I read Gone Girl because, well, who didn't read Gone Girl last year. I'm not usually one to read something just because everyone else has, but my mom kept telling me to read it so I eventually gave in. I was not disappointed. I spent my formative years staying up late reading my mom's copies of Stephen King and VC Andrews novels, and my fondness for those authors is probably all you need to know about why I've become a big Gillian Flynn fan. Recently I went back and read Flynn's earlier novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

These mini-reviews are in the order in which I read them. Also, some very minor spoilers.

Gone Girl
I read this book almost a year ago, so my memory is a little foggy. What I do remember is that this book has a super dark ending. The bad guy wins! Several of my coworkers who have read this book complained that they didn't like the ending because they felt that the characters deserved some sort of comeuppance for all the terrible things they do in the book. To which I say, eyeroll. Okay, I guess that's not really something that gets said. My library's book club read Gone Girl this month and a coworker had to cover the meeting despite not having read the book. She told me that the only thing she knew about the book was that it had a bad ending. My response was that the ending wasn't bad, it was perfect. It just wasn't a happy ending. If you're looking for a happy ending where justice is served and everyone lives happily ever after, it's probably  a good idea to just stay away from anything Gillian Flynn has written.

Sharp Objects
I don't think this was my favorite of Flynn's novels, but it is a super fast read. I tend to get distracted really easily and not finish what I started reading, so any time I breeze through a book in a week's time I have to give the author credit. Sharp Objects is the story of a Chicago journalist returning to her hometown in Missouri when a girl goes missing just a few months after another girl was murdered. Serial killer in a small town, you know the drill. This was Flynn's first novel and I don't think it's as well structured as her other two. The big reveal isn't that surprising and happens sort of abruptly. But it is a good read and I would recommend it if you're in the mood for a mystery with disturbing family dynamics.

Dark Places
Speaking of disturbing family dynamics, this book pretty much takes the cake. You'll have to read the book yourself, to say more would be way too spoilery. In January 1985, Patty Day and two of her young children are brutally murdered in their home. The youngest child, Libby, manages to escape through a window and survives. Patty's teenage son Ben is arrested and convicted of the murders. This book is told from alternating viewpoints, Patty and Ben in 1985 and Libby in 2009. In the present day, Libby is realizing that the testimony she gave in 1985 when she was 7-years-old may have been coerced, and maybe her brother didn't kill her family after all. The book then shares Patty and Ben's viewpoints on the day leading up to the murders. It's a really interesting way to tell the story, and I really like the way the exact same event is interpreted differently depending on who is the viewpoint character for that chapter. However, I think this alternating structure is why it took me longer to finish this book. When a chapter ends on a cliffhanger, I'll often pull the "just one more chapter" thing to find out what happens next. But when a chapter ends on a cliffhanger and I know I'll have to read at least one additional chapter about completely different events before I can find out what happens, it's a lot easier to say "whatever, I'll just pick this up tomorrow night." It's especially bad if the cliffhanger is at the end of a Patty 1985 or Ben 1985 chapter. The book is essentially structured as Libby 2009, Patty 1985, Libby 2009, Ben 1985, Libby 2009, Patty 1985. If I want to find out what happens next to Patty, I have to read three more chapters. I mainly read in bed, so that's a lot to ask of someone who is falling asleep. This is a complaint that's really specific to me and my reading style, I still highly recommend this book. I think I actually like it better than Gone Girl.