Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dark Places: Lukewarm Flynn Is Still Entertaining Flynn

You can almost seen the beginnings of Gillian Flynn's megahit Gone Girl in her second novel, 2009's Dark Places. Here, the narrative is told from multiple points of view (though the real-time narrative is first person) and we're not quite sure how reliable any of the characters' perspective really is. While Flynn's story here is as entertaining as ever, this is probably my least favorite of her three novels. But lukewarm Gillian Flynn is still better than at least 50 percent of what I've read this year — and probably 75 percent better, from a writing perspective, than other genre thrillers out there.

So the story for this one: Libby Day is a 31-year-old woman whose family was horrifically murdered when she was 7. Her older brother Ben — 15 at the time — was convicted of the murders based on Libby's testimony, and some weird rumors that he was involved in Satanic rituals. Libby has managed to squeak by for the next 24 years on the kindness of strangers' donations, but not now the money has run dry, and she has to figure out how to support herself.

When a nerdy dude name Lyle contacts her about an "appearance fee" at a club he's a member of, she jumps at the chance, and soon discovers a weird clique of people devoted to "solving" what they judge to be mistaken convictions or other unsolved murders.

Wavering between genuine need for money and genuine curiosity about what actually happened that fateful night in January 1985, Libby begins talking to the principals involved, including her brother who is wasting away in prison and who she's never talked to since her testimony put him away.

The story alternates between Libby's present-day attempts to find the people involved — including her drunk, degenerate father Runner, and Ben's former friend/bully Trey — and the perspectives of people on the fateful day in question, including Ben and Libby's mother Patty, a frazzled single-mother to four kids who is at her wits end about how to run their small farm in rural Kansas.

The setup here is great, but parts of the story should carry a bit of a disclaimer: "Suspend disbelief, all ye who enter here" — especially the ending when we finally do find out what happened to Libby's family. But that's okay — you don't read thrillers to compare them to the authenticity of your own real-world experiences, necessarily. You read them to escape your own real-world for a bit. At least I do. And I did enjoy this for Flynn's fantastic dialogue and intriguing characters. But if you're new to Flynn, definitely don't start with this one. Both Gone Girl and Sharp Objects are better.

1 comment:

  1. Ah damn! i just finished Sharp Objects and was thinking I'd pick this one up soon. But it seems that I would be on a Flynn downward spiral. Hmmm...