Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Gillian Flynn puts on her pants just like the rest of you, except once her pants are on, she writes great crime novels

I used to have no taste in books. It's true! I liked the worst of the worst British (and there are no worse) 80s horror novels. I once gave a friend Michael Slade's atrocious Ghoul, which he rightly hated. The book is notable for a profusion of gore and also a blurb from Bruce Dickinson (yes, THE Bruce Dickinson) He said "Slade is warped and I love it!" The twisted characters in Gillian Flynn's two excellent novels make me wonder about her daydreams, but I will say I love her books but not for the reason Dickinson praised Slade.

Slade like the torture pornographers that dominate horror movies believes that gore and physical torment is scary, or, worse, entertaining. Flynn is more interested in social cruelty and psychological torment. Her first book, Sharp Objects, featured an emotionally shattered outsider who returned to her hometown to cover a brutal murder and to confront her unspeakable family.

Her newer book is Dark Places. This one dials back the social critique a tad, but features a dual timeline story in which the only survivor of a 1980s home massacre finally comes to terms with it. Libby was seven when her family was killed and she helped put her brother in jail for her life as the killer. She becomes a violent withdrawn person herself and makes it to her thirties living off donations. When she runs out of money and choices, she helps out some bizarro murder fetishists who believe her brother did not commit the crime. Not believing them, but needing money she becomes involved in their investigation.

The flashbacks to the 80s depict a small town awash in fears of Satanists (remember that? I recall reading a book cashing in on the hysteria called Say You Love Satan!). The town looks down on Libby's family, as they are barely holding their heads above water. Libby's brother is poor and awkward, which makes him doubly suspicious in the eyes of the community. They are all too happy to demonize him as the story progresses.

The story itself is much better in this book than in the first book. As much as I loved that book for the characterization and writing, the ending was fairly clear at about the midpoint. In this case, you get the gimlet eyed writing, the weak, bitter, but still sympathetic characters, but you also get a story that keeps you uncertain until the end.

I can't wait to see what human ruin Flynn creates next!


Beth said...

Yay, human ruin!

Tripp said...

Really, isn't that all we are looking for in our books?