” Everyone has a moment where life goes off the rails. Mine was the day Marian died. That day I picked up that knife is a tight second. ” (Ch.10, p.225)
Gillian Flynn’s debut is no Gone Girl in terms of the unpredictable plot from cover to cover, but it’s all the same riveting. The mystery is about at par with the brilliance of Gone Girl, but more tightly written than Dark Places. Sharp Objects offers something darker, with more depth, and a gamut of emotions, in the psychological sense.
Camille Preaker is a young Chicago reporter who faces a troubling assignment—to return to her hometown to cover the murder/disappearance of two preteen girls. Troubled because Camille has alienated from her mother, stepfather and half-sister. More troubled is a tragic, claustrophobic childhood that has shaped her life. Her little sister, Marian, died when Camille was 13. Attempting to cope with Marian’s death and her mother’s indifference toward her, she took to a long-lasting self-destructive behavior. Camille is a cutter—words she cut and etched onto her skin. As an adult, she becomes very self-conscious of her scarred body that she would make every effort to cover her arms and legs.
My mother had cut me open and was unpacking my organs, stacking them in a row on my bed as my flesh flapped to either side. She was sewing her initials into each of them, then tossing them back tome, along with a passel of forgotten objects. (Ch.10, p.236)
First victim was a 9-year-old found in the river. The second, a 10-year-old, wedged in a foot-wide space between two shops in town, propped upright for the public to see. Neither was sexually molested, both had their teeth plied and removed after being strangled to death. When local sheriff is reluctant to cooperate, Camille makes the rounds, visiting the families of victims, reconnecting, food good or ill with her former schoolmates, a bunch resemble and remind me of a hybrid between Good Christian Bitches and Mommy Dearest, most of whom have not a clue of the victims’ whereabouts just before their death and believe the murderer an outsider. Then there’s Camille spoiled brat of half-sister, a 13-year-old who is poised on delinquency and all kinds of mischief. The spiteful, headstrong girl, to Camille’s surprise, seems to submit to their over-nourishing mother, Adora, who is like a warm presence of guillotine. Being put back into the messed up family dynamics forces Camille to confront the demons of her past and to examine the cause of her unhappiness.
Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick woman all my life . . . Women with conditions . . . Women get consumed. (Ch.14, p.320)
It turns out that a girl with a pathological need to scar her body with cuts is the least disturbing part of the novel. The investigation reveals a posse of extremely mean girls roaming the school, led by her troubled step-sister. But the truly disturbing business is a matter of the heart—how women are cagey about the festering pain, fear and lack of fulfillment, to the point of mental instability. Flynn builds tension well, truly adept at creating an atmosphere of creepiness and horror, especially by subverting some of the admirable truth and instinct of women—loyalty, uncontested love, and submission. The story is riveting and twisty. My only gripe is Flynn’s indulgence of punch lines that just make me shake my jowls.
393 pp. Broadway Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]