Review of Dark Places
Gillian Flynn has recently come to the attention of many readers due to the popularity of her latest book, Gone Girl. It’s so popular, in fact, that it’s impossible to get ahold of in most libraries. Because of this, I decided to read another book of hers while I waited: Dark Places. After all, it sounded like exactly the kind of book I enjoy: creepy, thrilling, and smart. It did not disappoint.
Dark Places is about thirty-one year old Libby Day, who, twenty-five years ago was the sole survivor of the Kinnakee Satan Sacrifices, when her then-fifteen year old brother Ben snapped one night and massacred her mother and her two older sisters. Since then, Libby has been trapped in a depression of sorts. She’s unable to function normally- writing a check exhausts her, she can’t control her anger, and instead of working, she simply lives off of the fund to which people have contributed since her family was murdered. The problem is that in the past few years, Libby’s story has grown stale to the public and people rarely donate to her cause anymore; her money is running out. But then Libby gets an offer from a group called the Kill Club, a group of people for whom Libby’s story is not old news. In fact, they’re sure that facts were overlooked and will pay Libby thousands of dollars to make appearances, give interviews, and sell her family’s possessions. Libby is so desperate to keep up her miserable but comfortably solitary life that she’s willing to do all this, until it becomes apparent that what she thought were facts when she was seven, might not be at all.
I admire writers who aren’t afraid to write unlikable characters. Flynn took the risk of her readers hating Libby when she wrote her main character. LIbby is so angry and so troubled that she’s hard to empathize with. However, as a reader, I was able to accept her for who she is; she does, after all, have every right to be that way. She also doesn’t apologize for her character, and for some reason, that made me like Libby more. And even though the stubborness doesn’t go away, it support Libby’s slow change of heart regarding the murders: Libby may be money-grubbing and cynical, but it’s those traits, among others, that propel her to find the real answers.
The book is mostly written from in Libby’s voice, but every few chapters, a third person narrative gives us the perspective of either Ben (Libby’s brother), Runner (their father), or Patty (their mother.) This gave the reader some relief from Libby’s heavy voice and allowed us to piece together the story ourselves, instead of Flynn presenting the answer in the final chapter in a cliche “crazy killer speech” moment. The best part of getting the additional points of view was seeing a small thing that was already or would shortly be a remarkable fact, whether it be a family story that was insignificant to one character but meant the world to another or an object present in the scene. Flynn leaves these little gems around casually, but does it artfully, so that when the reader comes across it, it’s like a bomb going off.
I hadn’t read a thriller novel in awhile, and reading Dark Places made me miss doing so. Flynn has a great style- it’s entertaining and unapologetic, and chock-full of skill. If Gone Girl is anything like Dark Places, that long wait is completely worth it.
“Like I said, [Kill Club] is basically for solvers. And enthusiasts. Of famous murders. Everyone from like, Fanny Adams to-“
“Who is Fanny Adams?” I snapped, realizing I was about to get jealous. I was supposed to be the special one here.
“She was an eight-year-old, got chopped to bits in England in 1867. That guy we just passed, with the top hat and stuff, he was playing at being her murderer, Frederick Baker.”
“That’s really sick.” So she’d been dead forever. That was good. No competition.
I steal underpants, rings, CDs, books, shoes iPods, watches […] The actual stuff my family owned, those boxes under my stairs, I can’t quite bear to look at. I like other people’s things better. They come with other people’s history.
After another forty minutes of driving, the strip clubs started showing up: dismal, crouched blocks of cement, most without any real name, just neon signs shouting Live Girls! Live Girls! Which I guess is a better selling point than Dead Girls.