Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dark Places

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Crown Publishing Group, 2009
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307341563
very highly recommended

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.

My Thoughts:

In Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, Libby Day's mother and two sisters were murdered by her brother Ben on January 3, 1985. Her testimony, at age seven, is what convicted Ben. Now, twenty-five years later and desperate to earn some money, Libby accepts an invitation to talk to members of the Kill Club, a group of true crime enthusiasts. Initially only interested in earning some easy money from the group, Libby agrees to try to find and talk to various people associated with the case.

Flynn alternates the narrators for each chapter. Present day chapters are told in first person by Libby while the alternate chapters, voices from the past (mainly her mom, Peggy, or brother Ben), are told in third person. These flashbacks begin on the morning of January 2, the day before the murders 25 years ago, and provide us with information that Libby never knew.

The switches between the present and past are quite smooth and both storylines are equally compelling. Libby doesn't know everything that happened before the murders and was never privy to, or, later, interested in discovering, much of the information surrounding the case.The plot, following both time lines, is engrossing. The actual climax was a surprise.

Flynn is an excellent writer. Her novel is very well plotted and executed. Flynn is equally descriptive in setting the atmosphere, the place, and characters. It all makes for a very memorable novel. Her characters are believable; they are hard-scrabble, ugly, disenfranchised. She has given us another novel full of unlikable characters, although at the end you will be hoping Libby eventually comes to terms with her problems and can lead a normal life.

The violence in Dark Places is more graphic than that in Sharp Objects, but Dark Places is also a more complex novel. Very Highly Recommended


I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders. Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives—second cousins and great-aunts and friends of friends—stuck in a series of mobile homes or rotting ranch houses all across Kansas. opening

I am, I guess, depressed. I guess I’ve been depressed for about twenty-four years. I can feel a better version of me somewhere in there—hidden behind a liver or attached to a bit of spleen within my stunted, childish body—a Libby that’s telling me to get up, do something, grow up, move on. But the meanness usually wins out. My brother slaughtered my family when I was seven. My mom, two sisters, gone: bang bang, chop chop, choke choke. I didn’t really have to do anything after that, nothing was expected. pg. 2

I've labeled the memories as if they were a particularly dangerous region: Darkplace. Linger too long in an image of my mom trying to jury-rig the blasted coffeemaker again or of Michelle dancing around in her jersey nightgown, tube socks pulled up to her knees, and my mind would jerk into Darkplace. Maniacal smears of bright red sound in the night. pg. 10

"You know how some people like mysteries? Or get totally into true-crime blogs? Well, this club is a bunch of those people. Everyone has their crime that they're obsessed with: Laci Peterson, Jeffrey MacDonald, Lizzie Borden... you and your family. I mean you and your family, it's huge with the club. Just huge..." pg. 14

The murders had left me permanently off-kilter in these kinds of judgment calls. I assumed everything bad in the world could happen, because everything bad in the world already did happen. But, then, weren't the chances minuscule that I, Libby Day, would meet harm on top of it? Wasn't I safe by default? A shiny, indestructible statistic. I can't decide, so I veer between drastic overcaution (sleeping with the lights on at all times, my mom's old Colt Peacemaker on my bedside table) to ridiculous incaution (venturing by myself to a Kill Club in a vacant building). pg. 25

"Why did you testify that Ben killed your family?"
"Because he did," I said. "I was there."
"You were hiding, sweetheart. No way you saw what you say you did, or you'd be dead, too." pg. 35

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