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A Spoopy Love Affair With Books

Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.

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SPOILER ALERT!

Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

Libby Day is almost the sole survivor of the massacre of her family; the other is her brother, Ben, convicted nearly twenty-five years previously for the killings, based largely, she believes, on her testimony as a scared and coached seven year-old girl. Equal measures of fear and guilt keep her from looking closer into it, into the area of her life that she calls the Darkplace, strewn with blood and bodies. And she's content to leave it that way until the charity and pity of others stops paying for her bills.

 

Crippled by chronic depression that she inherited from her mother, and shock and dysfunction from her childhood trauma, she's pathologically angry, a kleptomaniac who's avoided looking at her own belongings for so long, she prefers to replace them with other people's. As a protagonist, I found her funny, charming in an unconventional way, and absolutely heart-breaking. (I was quite disturbed to read a majority of reviews that considered her sour, unlikable, unsympathetic, which, to me, seems to go against a large portion of the message of the book, about how victims are viewed and treated, either as objects of pity, when we make them precious, sad objects, or as if we have as much right, as much entitlement to their tragedies as they do.) Her anger is mostly impotent, which only makes her angrier, and less satisfied.

 

And while I wouldn't say that the mystery itself, what actually happened that night, takes a backseat to anything (Flynn sows clues earlier enough that you might forget about them, but it never feels cheap, certainly not during the reveal), as perfectly and precisely crafted as it feels and reads, the real strength of the novel lies in characterization, especially of broken, dysfunctional people.

 

The narration switches every other chapter from first-person from Libby's point of view in the present, to alternating between Patty (Mom) and Ben (brother) the day of the murders. While this narrative device allows us to see, in depth, into quite a few of the characters minds and private lives, it also serves as a way of demonstrating how perspective and memory can be two very treacherous things. The later chapters especially ended in cliffhangers and kept driving me crazy, making me want to read on and on!

 

I hated Ben. Not a failing of the novel, as Flynn tends to look at these characters with unflinching honesty, and isn't trying to elicit sympathy. Since he has a tantrum and makes Libby feel guilty about her testimony when, in fact, she wasn't as wrong as everyone thinks she was (he was there that night, he did chase after her into the snow, he even had a chance to stop the murder of one of his sisters, without that much effort, and didn't bother) when he himself is holding back crucial information about Diondra made me want to punch him in the nutsack.

 

I loved the language. I loved how natural it felt, as if it were the next mutation of the John Hughes effect, with misplaced commas and repeated, awkward words, I could hear each of the characters' voices perfectly. And speaking of evoking Hughes, the place and period in the flashbacks was perfect

 

Ultimately, it's Libby's story, though. And while nothing's ever going to make her "get over" the tragedy she suffered through, by the end of the book, at least some part of her is ready to move forward; as her Aunt Diane says, to put just a little more effort into it. The emotion always felt bluntly real to me; at the beginning of the novel, I got choked up nearly every chapter. And it was grimly inspiring. Will definitely be looking into more of Flynn's work now.