by Gillian Flynn
Original Publication Date: May 2009
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Broadway Books
Obtained Via: Library
View at the Traffic light:
“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.”
Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.
The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.
As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.
I have a meanness inside me, as real as an organ.
I read Gillian Flynn’s most popular book, Gone Girl, first, and while I liked it fine, I didn’t understand all the hype. Still, I was intrigued about Gillian Flynn’s earlier work, so I checked Dark Places out of my library. And oh, I am so glad I did. Nobody writes the extents of human depravity quite like Gillian Flynn.
Once again, we’re treated to a cast full of unlikable and spiteful characters, but–and this is the difference for me–I found them so intriguing. You can give me an unlikable character, a character I’ll hate, a flawed character–just don’t give me an annoying character. That was my main problem with Gone Girl. Dark Places, however, does all of that better.
Dark Places is a bit of a mystery, a bit of a thriller, that isn’t really a mystery. Yes, the mystery of who really killed Libby’s family does play a big part. But even more than that, this is a story of a troubled family and what happened one night to ruin it all. Normally, I hate these types of stories–the ones that hail themselves as “family sagas” or talk about “troubled family history”. But Dark Places combined that with a mystery and a real feel of terror, and it absolutely worked.
The story is told in two separate time frames. There’s present-day Libby, who has run out of money and is desperate enough to begin searching for the hidden truth about her family as long as a mystery club funds it, and then there’s the story of the Day family in 1985 and the build-up to what happened that night. Sometimes split timelines don’t work, but in Dark Places, this juxtaposition gave me shivers. After knowing the consequences of that day, seeing the Days in their lives takes on a whole new meaning.
What works best in Dark Places, though, is the protagonist, Libby. That meanness in the opening line? It’s certainly real, and it seeps out of the pages. Yet, after awhile, I couldn’t help but to root for her, despite her despicable behavior at times. Libby is intriguing, with a rich and complex back story. She’s emotionally stunted from what happened. She’s a kleptomaniac. And she’s researching that night for money, not any noble motive. And yet. . . there’s something profoundly human about Libby.
I will say that there’s not as much twist and turns in Dark Places as there is in Gone Girl. It’s still a mystery, but not with opposing sides. In plot structure, I would say it tends to favor a more standard mystery format, but it often goes much deeper than that. I also found the plot cleverly constructed. I didn’t see the truth coming, but once it was out I went “oh.” I often find those to be the best sorts of mysteries.
I found upon closing the book that I really could find no faults with Dark Places. It’s aptly name, a disturbingly dark book, but it did dark so well. I’m glad I gave Gillian Flynn’s work another chance.
Disturbing and dark, Dark Places is a fascinating journey of a character trying to discover the truth about one horrible night that claimed her mother and sisters. While not as big on the mind screw factor, I found Dark Places a wonderful read and one of the best books I’ve read this year.