Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:17 AM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars.

I don't generally venture into the crime/thriller genre; I usually avoid books of horror and murder because a) I am a total wimp and b) I'm not all that interested in the characters, anyway. So I've tended to equate these books with cheap teen slasher flicks: sensationalist violence-fests with cardboard characters falling to the axe one by one.

And then, a couple of summers ago, I picked up Sharp Objects.

And I was snared.

It was deeply disturbing and haunting but so compelling that I couldn't stop reading. The narrator's voice grabbed me, dragged me into her world, and I just had to keep reading, because I cared about her, and I needed to know, even if there was a monster under the bed, even if the truth was going to be awful and ugly...

So then Flynn came out with Dark Places, and I did it all over again.

I blame it entirely on her main characters. Ordinarily, I could easily avoid a story about the massacre of a family in a Kansas farmhouse one frigid January morning -- I don't want or need to know the bloody details. But I made the fatal mistake of opening the book and reading the first pages, and Libby Day took my hand and pulled me into the dark.

Obviously I want to avoid spoilers, so I'll just say that this book is beautifully structured and well-paced, with Libby's present-day investigations interspersed with flashes of the past, shifting to different characters' points of view almost hour by hour, leading up to that fateful morning. The impression is that of watching an awful Rube-Goldberg machine, all of these small moments interlocking and triggering further reactions, leading up to that horrible disaster.

For me, there was a terrible beauty in this motion, how misunderstandings and lies and simple stupid mistakes churned up this deep ugliness and violence in this seemingly-tranquil setting. Even knowing what was going to happen that morning, I found myself reading and chanting to myself, no, no, no, please...

Finally, I know this sounds odd, but there are also moments of stunning beauty in this book of horror and tragedy. And maybe that is what kept me reading, too. Because in Flynn's novels, nothing is ever simple, nothing black-and-white. That challenging complexity makes this a highly recommended read...though I don't think I'll try to re-read it anytime soon.

So please, Flynn, give me a bit of a breather before your next book. Odds are I'll be picking that one up, too.

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