Sunday, October 03, 2010

Dark Places--Gillian Flynn

In 1985, most of the Day family was killed on their farm in Kinnakee, IL. The son of the family, Ben Day, was convicted of the murders of two of his sisters and his mothers. Satan worship was cited as a cause. His sister Libby, aged 7 and the sole survivor of that night, testified against him. Having run through a trust fund established by donations from the public, Libby has taken the Kill Club up on their offer to investigate what really happened that night and try to find evidence to free Ben.

The story's not suspenseful because of the plot but rather due to Flynn's characterization and the details in her storytelling. By showing the events of the day of the murder in flashbacks to both Ben and his mother Patty's points of view, Flynn creates suspense about the reason for the murders as the day descends from an ordinary level of awful to horrifying. She expertly depicts the tension between Ben, who's old enough to realize how sunk the family is and to be angry about it, and his mom Patty who is both sympathetic to Ben's growing pains and how he's grown up with a lousy dad and a houseful of women. Patty's tired desperation as she learns about Ben's secret life and what he's been hiding combined with her chronic stress about her failing farm add to the atmosphere of painful dread as one reads the novel.

Flynn also has a great eye for description--Ben's observations that his little sisters only have one and a half wardrobes of hand-me-downs to share among the three, the detail that as the farms crisis struck Kinnakee it opened a prison to replace farming as an industry, a notion of a Superfund Hooverville, Ben's fan club of women and their anger towards Libby, and Libby's pleasure that a former neighbor lost his farm while not remembering the reason for her animosity. Libby is an interesting creation--she's wholly unsympathetic, a thief, a liar, depressed and miserable the way only someone who survived a tragedy could be, but the reader is also sympathetic towards her as she tries to figure out what went on that night. Libby's capacity for redemption is also a source of tension as she is a character who believes herself beyond hope. The ongoing theme of the novel is the decisions one makes before adulthood that influence the future when one doesn't know better, and how one can't go back and fix things.

This was a great read, very tense and suspenseful. I've got Flynn's first novel, Sharp Objects , out based on my enjoyment of this one and will look for her books in the future.

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