09 March 2014

Books: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (2006)

Now that I’m finally onto Gillian Flynn (who, of course, I’ve been aware of since this book came out in 2006), I’ve got some conflicted feelings about it. While the strongest part of the book is its dysfunctional characters, including Camille Preaker’s home town of Wind Gap, it’s also some the unpleasant aspects of Sharp Objects, like the horrible pettiness that small town life seems to perpetuate, the ugliness, the backstabbing and even the causal sexuality that simmers more on the surface than below.

By and far, it is a strong debut, a literary thriller with mean streak that made me turn the pages, but left me feeling a bit dirty, like the remnants of a water line on house after a great flood. All the characters, even Camille, are a bit unlikeable (and just another reminder of why small town life can be suffocating for the folks who don’t fit it).

“WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart. Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker's troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille's first assignment from the second-rate daily Chicago paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims — a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.”

Yes the book is dark, and at times original (but the basic premise is time worn), and Camille will either anger women for her foolishness and her very casual attitude about sex and the role women play in that theater, or they’ll praise her for being so strong –and yet fragile- when you understand the life she grew up in. Camille is a survivor, but that survivability is always close to enveloping her like the night when she does things that seem deliberately (like the endless drinking) destructive. She understands it is wrong, but does it anyways. And while Flynn’s prose is strong, I still could never get near to Camille. I mean, at times, I just hated the character. I’m sure that’s her intention, but while Sharp Objects is a good, well written book, I feel that this genre may not be for me.

Though, ironically, as I say this, I’m about to read her second book, Dark Places. And that has started out with another mean, dysfunctional woman who comes into contact with the folks who are obsessed with real-life crimes. This may temper my reading of Flynn’s huge break through novel, Gone Girl.

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