Monday, June 20, 2016

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Genre: mystery/thriller
Pages: 350
Published: 2009


Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice" of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

All of the characters in Dark Places (including the narrator) are entirely unlikable and the subject matter is dark to say the least.  However, I found the book to be utterly intriguing and surprisingly excellent!

I devoured this one, my first Gillian Flynn, in a space of a few hours while sitting on the deck of a cruise ship this past week.  Whilst frighteningly pale people lounged around drinking martinis and frighteningly red people attempted to ease themselves into a hot tub without visibly cringing, I sat in the shade and indulged in this wild, expertly-crafted tale of murder, devil worship, and family skeletons.

From the moment I "met" the narrator Libby Day, I wanted to know more about her bleak life and her bleaker past, why she calls herself an "unlovable adult" and why in the world her brother Ben, now in prison, murdered the rest of her family when Libby was seven.  Libby is a very interesting character.  On the surface, she is a thirty-four year old woman who has never had a job or any dreams or real achievements, unless you count trying to pay the bills by writing a memoir about her murdered family.  She mentally beats herself up for relying on her gruesome celebrity status as the only survivor of the massacre to skate by without actually doing anything, yet it is impossible not to pity her for the horrors she has suffered.  In addition, Libby is pretty funny at times.  Her biting observations about certain characters and self-deprecating humor do a lot to lighten the mood of the book.
Libby describes her soul.

Libby's voice has the power to completely suck the reader into her little world, to let you see the things she saw and the emptiness she feels vividly.  However, the novel is not entirely in first person, because the chapters alternate between Libby's first-person POV in the present and flashbacks from the POVs of her mother, Patty, and her brother Ben.  So, the story unfolds rather like a film.  The author gives us little bits and pieces of what happened "that night" when Libby's family were killed, meanwhile Libby is trying to piece together everything in the present, sometimes working a bit more slowly than the reader thanks to our privileged insights from Patty and Ben's chapters, and sometimes having startling epiphanies.

I loved the way the characters kept me guessing, though I didn't really like any of the characters themselves.  However, my one complaint about Dark Places concerns its conclusion.  I felt that the big reveal of what happened to Libby's family that horrible night was a little, well, not deus ex machina, but rather diabolus ex machinaa devil from the machine, a cop-out on the author's part.  Those who have read it (more than 300,000 people on Goodreads alone!) will know what I mean by that.  To avoid spoiling anything, though, it suffices to say that I was not quite satisfied with the way the mystery turned out, although I loved every moment of Libby's investigation and the way it all unraveled.

I did feel a bit cheated, but on the other hand I put this rather disturbing tale aside without suffering from any lingering feeling of melancholy or despair at the way people sometimes treat each other in this world--a symptom I commonly have after finishing contemporary crime novels or watching thriller movies like Taken, etc.  Dark Places does indeed alight upon the dark corners of people's psyches, but ultimately the story is more hopeful than I had anticipated based on its beginnings.  Of course, it didn't hurt that there are few dark places or melancholy thoughts to be found on a cruise ship sailing leisurely through the Caribbean!

This book is

mesmerizing                               gloomy                        immersive

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