” I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. ” (Libby, Now; p.1)
Libby Day’s family was killed by her brother when she was 7. In 1985, her 15-year-old brother, Ben, took an ax to her mother and two older sisters, and, 24 years later, the girl coined by the tabloids as “the Lone Survivor of the Prairie Massacre” is still seething with anger over everything she lost. Family life was not all that nurturing in the impoverished Day household, what with a deadbeat dad running the farm into the ground before taking off and a mother so overwhelmed she just gave up.
I wanted him to feel sorry for me, to float around in my big empty pool of pity. (Libby, Now; p.155)
At 32, Libby can barely take care of herself. She cannot hold down a job. Anti-social behavior has become her default defense mechanism. She has lived on the “Baby Day” trust fund that has kept her out of the work force but now has dried up. “People move on to help others.” Not knowing what she is in for, she accepts an invitation to appear at the Kill Club, an underground organization for enthusiasts of infamous crime cases. Soon she discovers that the ghoulish fans believe Ben’s innocence and have plans for his acquittal. Cash in hand, she bites the bullet and reopens communication with everyone who figured in the case, including the imprisoned Ben, their worthless father, a girl who accused Ben of molesting her, and an elusive girlfriend.
The whole story of which the narrative alternates between present day Libby and the fateful day on which her family was murdered, hinges on the muddled details of the murder, as well as the whereabouts of everyone who figured in the case. As Libby starts examining the massacre from an adult perspective, she finds that the profit motive is less of an incentive than her desire to know the truth, which Flynn shrewdly doles out in vivid flashbacks that lead up to the killings. Many subplots intertwine with the main event, but nonetheless point to Ben as the killer. He has no alibi. He has been arrested and charged based on rumors in the community that he is involved in Satanist practice. The book moves at a steady pace, but it’s the last quarter that really puts one on the edge of the seat, as Libby’s the time-split narratives merge, which adds to the suspense and renders the atmosphere eerily macabre.
If there’s a conscious theme here, it has to do with people who are trying so hard to achieve a sense of closure if it’s at the cost of the truth. Truth and partial truth really matter in the verdict here. Also, children and teenager want to make something that get bigger than they are to happen, and the chaos that follows when no responsible adults are around can be disastrous. This book reminds me of In Cold Blood but with more twists. It really evokes the drab small-town life and the helplessness of parenthood.The pace can be tighter and story shorter–a little too convoluted that the twist at the end can barely save the drag.
542 pp. Broadway Books. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]