I accidentally ended up reading Gillian Flynn backwards, starting with Gone Girl, moving onto Dark Places, and finishing with Sharp Objects. I can’t help but feel like this reading order taught me a little something about Gillian Flynn, at least as a writer: her most recent (GG) has, to my memory, some of the least graphically disturbing violence compared to the other two, but the most monstrous female protagonist. This book’s protagonist is psychologically damaged, to be sure, but at her heart she yearns to be good, or, at the very least, whole. That’s not necessarily the case with Dark Places‘s Libby and certainly not with Gone Girl‘s Amy. So it’s almost like with every book, Flynn goes deeper into her examination of amorality and psychopathy. Though blatantly abusive and/or violent characters have always populated her pages, her protagonists get markedly more deranged with every book.
But back to Sharp Objects and Camille. She’s a reporter, living in Chicago, who is sent back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to cover the story of the death of two little girls. Her editor thinks she can inject some pathos into typical crime reporting since she grew up there and is familiar with the local flavor. What her editor doesn’t know, and what Camille herself has minimized, is the extent of the psychological trauma endured at the hands of her mother, which drove her out of Wind Gap in the first place and, while she was there, caused her to carve words all over her body.
Not dissimilar to Sunnydale’s Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s kind of a pervasive sickness that seems to inhabit Wind Gap, and it’s borne out of toxic, passive-aggressive class divisions and misogynist, antebellum-holdover attitudes about women: be beautiful, be married, be breeding, be submissive, and be loudly judgmental of everyone who isn’t.
Part of the story is the mystery of what happened to the two girls, and part of it is what happened to Camille. Both are disturbing and thrilling and classic Gillian Flynn. I love her brand of wrongness. But don’t expect to feel good after.