Friday, August 25, 2017

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Reviewed by Christy H.     

Libby doesn’t want to get a job. She’s not exactly someone who has her life together, and she’s not really interested in trying to start now. She does agree, however, to sell some family mementos to a true crime fan club who are obsessed with her story. She’ll even hunt down persons of interest to ask them questions – if the price is right.

            When Libby was seven her mother and two older sisters were all brutally murdered in the middle of the night in their isolated Kansas farmhouse. Young Libby pinned it on her fifteen year old brother Ben who was convicted and sent to prison for life. Since then, Libby has bounced from relative to relative, usually wreaking havoc in her wake. Now in her thirties she lives alone in a small apartment, living off years of donations to the lone survivor of the Kinnakee Kansas Farm Massacre. But that money is running out. This is where the true crime fan club (Kill Club) comes in. They believe Ben is innocent, and Libby is to blame for “lying” to police when she was a child. (Some members of the club are horrifically rude to her when they finally meet face to face. “She’s still a little liar.” I’ve never wanted to slap a fictional character so much in my life.)

            Nevertheless, money is money. Libby agrees to do some digging and hunt down people to interview. She’s never really thought twice about Ben’s guilt. Of course he did it. But she tries not to think about that night at all. She hasn’t seen Ben in all the years since. As Libby investigates and hunts down people connected to teenaged Ben, the narrative jumps back and forth in time.  The past focuses on the day of the murders with POV chapters from Ben and their mother Patty. Present day is all Libby. I enjoyed this narrative structure, and I thought all the little parallels between past-Ben and present-Libby’s thoughts were a nice touch.

            Gillian Flynn is really good at writing unlikeable characters who you still want to read about. Libby is no exception. Although there is sympathy there because of her terrible loss, she does really horrible things to test that sympathy to its breaking point. I guess now is as good a time as any to give potential readers a warning for graphic animal cruelty. (Although to be fair to Libby, the worse incident in the book has nothing to do with her.) Needless to say, this was a very dark read. I think I felt the most for poor Patty who has one awful thing dumped on her after another when she’s barely keeping it together in the first place. I love Flynn’s writing though, and she kept me turning pages long past my bedtime. I also liked the references to real life crimes and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s. Flynn satirizes hardcore true crime fandom as well without much exaggeration as they can truly be over the top.

            This review was a struggle to write as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, and I’m still processing what I think about the novel as a whole. But I will say it’s an interesting conclusion although not completely satisfactory. I suppose anything else would be out of character for Gillian Flynn. As much as I liked Gone Girl, I think I like this one even more. The story is a little more robust with more characters to focus on and no shortage of suspense.

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