After finishing Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s first novel, I immediately started Dark Places. I’m really torn between which of the two is not just my favorite Flynn book, but my favorite book of the year (so far).
Dark Places lives up to its title. It is unrelentingly grim. It’s not completely hopeless, but it is bleak, and dark, and overflowing with despair and desperation.
I loved every word of it.
The jacket blurb is below, with my commentary after.
“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.”
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.
The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details––roof they hope may free Ben––Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.
As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members––including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started––on the run from a killer.
We know about Libby’s murdered family right away, although the story quickly calls into question the exact role her brother did or did not have in the killings. The chapters alternate between Libby in the present, told in the first person, and her brother Ben and her mother back in 1985, in the days and hours leading up to the murders. We get to know them both intimately, understand their hopes as well as their pain and anguish. It makes knowing the gruesome deaths that are coming for Patty and two of her daughters all the more horrible.
Ben is a lost boy, forever on the outside, whether it’s his family full of girls or the kids at high school. A loner who feels like a coward, he’s drawn to drugs and Satanic death metal as a way of both rebelling and desperately fitting in.
His mother Patty loves her children but is completely overwhelmed trying to raise them on a failing farm she has no idea how to run. The farm had once belonged to her parents, who left it to her and her truly sleazy ex-husband Runner. With creditors closing in and foreclosure looming on the horizon, she grows increasingly frantic to find any way out of her dilemma.
I thought I’d had the mystery figured out pretty early on, but Flynn is a master of misdirection, and I ended up completely wrong. I was glad about that. I love being surprised in that way.
It was an exhausting, emotional read, but one I will recommend highly.