Book Review: Dark Places
Gillian Flynn is one hell of a writer. I plunged back into the world of fiction after a brief holiday in memoir-land, and let me start by saying: the title doesn’t lie. Dark Places is dark. Really, really dark.
Let me paint you a picture. A little farm town in Kansas, brought down by tough economic times. A family struggling to make ends meet. A worn-down mother of four, trying to keep food on the table and and her creditors at bay. A deadbeat, alcoholic father – a regular disappearing act. An angsty teenaged son who fits in nowhere and begins spending time around a rough crowd…
And then suddenly, one terrible night in 1985: the brutal slaughter of the mother and two young daughters by axe, stabbing, strangulation, and shotgun. Satanic symbols and phrases drawn with blood upon the walls. The youngest daughter, seven-year-old Libby Day, manages to escape the massacre, and having witnessed the horrors, testifies against her brother, who is sent to prison for life.
And that’s just the setup. The Kinnakee Kansas Farmhouse Massacre captures the attention of the nation, and many donate money to Libby throughout her childhood and teenaged years. Twenty-five years later, the money is dried up, and Libby, now an adult, is still drifting, fighting off the memories of that night, that she calls “Darkplace”.
She becomes aware of a group dedicated to obsessing over the details of horrific crimes and attempting to solve them, including the one her family went through. After meeting some of its members, she is surprised to find there is widespread agreement that her brother is not the one to blame. Out of desperation, she decides that this will become her source of income – she will run errands for this group, speaking to people who might have answers, in return for cash.
You know I can’t tell you anything else, much as I might want to. My book reviews are always spoiler-free.
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn, was a New York Times bestseller upon its release in 2009, and is in talks to become a film. In 2010, Dark Places was awarded the Black Quill Award in the category of Dark Genre Novel of the Year.
Having also read Gone Girl by the same author, which I absolutely adored, I can now see that Gillian Flynn has a certain style of writing thrillers. Just like with Gone Girl, Dark Places features a narrator and protagonist who is human and flawed, and like most people, at times unreliable. Libby is warped, complex, and vitriolic, which is to be expected from someone who endured such a tragedy.
The narrative skips back and forth through time, and is told through multiple perspectives. In this case, from the points of view of present-day Libby Day, her brother Ben Day in the days leading up to the event in 1985, and their mother, Patty Day, also in the days leading up to January 3, 1985.
Multiple, brilliantly crafted stories and conflicts weave together to create the tapestry that is the book as a whole. (I’m starting to imagine Gillian Flynn as some mythical being, working on a loom.) Until the reader finally learns what really happened that night, we are left in the dark, surrounded by a plethora of suspects with compelling motivations.
As with Gone Girl, Dark Places left me surprised, and at times, utterly horrified and speechless. While it didn’t suck me in with the same force as did Gone Girl, it was still an excellent read. (This might be in part because I liked Gone Girl’s Amy more than I probably should have.)
I feel like I need to cleanse my palate with some lighter fare next, lest I slip into some dark places myself. xx
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn – My Rating: 4/5