Review: Dark Places, Gillian Flynn

Ta-da! At last I have read this book and can proceed, like a year later, to Gone Girl. Seriously, it is almost a year later. You would not believe how long it takes for a hold on a Gillian Flynn book to get in at the library.

Dark Places is about the only survivor of a massacre that killed her whole family. At the age of seven, Libby Day testified that she saw her older brother Ben murder her mother and two older sisters. Now she’s in her thirties, running out of money left her by sympathetic well-wishers, and searching for another source of income. When she finds a local “Kill Club” obsessed with proving her brother’s innocence and willing to give her money for any information she can give them about the crime, she reluctantly agrees to do some further research into what happened on that night so many years ago.

The reason it’s fun to read an author’s books in order — I swear to God I’m going to get over the Taming of the Shrew hump and carry on reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in order — is that you get to see the themes that are going to run through their writing. My girlfriend Helen Oyeyemi is interested in doubles and myths that are coming to get you. Gillian Flynn is interested in unsympathetic, messed-up women and girls. That isn’t a criticism! I sort of like it. Unsympathetic female characters are apparently much harder to get away with than unsympathetic male characters, or else they’d give Ava Crowder more to do on Justified. Props to Gillian Flynn for doing this!

That said, there was something dreary about Dark Places that stopped me from enjoying it as much as I wanted to. I keep expecting her to tear through plot like they’re not making it anymore, and so far that hasn’t been what happens. (Gone Girl remains to be read so we’ll see what happens from here.) Dark Places expends a larger-than-strictly-necessary number of pages depicting The Many Humiliations of Flashback Ben. At times this got a little over the top. It was just humiliating thing after thing after thing, and although Flynn does create a mood, as well as an ongoing degree of doubt about Ben’s guilt, I kept thinking she could have accomplished the same goal in a more economical way.

Plus I just — I don’t know. For as gothic-feeling-Flannery-O’Connor as Gillian Flynn’s writing is, I want more interesting things to happen. I loved the meetings between Libby and the passionate ladies of the Kill Club. I wanted more of that, and less of her and her Flashback Mother wandering about their houses feeling glum and desperate. You knew they were desperate and glum from the beginning, you know? I didn’t necessarily need to be reminded of it over and over again.

These complaints are, of course, a function of Gillian Flynn’s high degree of acclaim as a writer (hence my high expectations, which y’all know can be a killer), and of my own particular taste in mysteries. If a mystery is going to be dreary, I want it to be emotionally wrenching. Or if it isn’t going to be emotionally wrenching, I want it to be madly entertaining and plotsy. PLOT. I can never have enough PLOT, y’all. And, you know, unexpected twists and turns, and things you weren’t expecting.

Anyway, onward! Gone Girl next! (But I am beginning to suspect I will never be slapping a “Favored authors” category on Gillian Flynn, even though her writing is good and I like how her women are all dysfunctional in a non-adorable, actually-really-screwed-up kind of way. Gritty has never been my thing.


15 thoughts on “Review: Dark Places, Gillian Flynn

  1. Your views sound fair, though I admit I’ve not read her work. A gloomy plot, albeit that not every book can be happy, does need to be interesting to keep you reading, and if it repeats then you’re naturally going to want to know about the mystery. Hope you enjoy Gone Girl more!

  2. I have now read all of her books, and must say that Gone Girl was the best. This was my least favorite, and reading them backwards from newest to oldest, really made me realize that she had grown as an author by the time Gone Girl was written. I agree that this one was sometimes slow, and that I got a little bored with it at times. I didn’t expect the ending, which is something that I have come to expect from Flynn, but all those flashbacks sort of dampened my enthusiasm for this one. It was a shocking book, but not as twisted or fun as Gone Girl.

  3. I like an unsympathetic character as long as he or she is still interesting, I suppose. Sometimes I get too frustrated with them to really enjoy the book. I loved Gone Girl, though, and I will definitely read the rest of Flynn’s books (but yikes, the holds list, as you say).

    Oyeyemiii! I read White is for Witching and liked it somuchohmanthatbookwasnuts. I’ve got to read her other stuff.

    • YESSSSSSSS but do be aware that White Is for Witching is the bestest of best of her novels. The Opposite House is beautifully written but not as cool (in my opinion). Mr. Fox is quite good though! Read that one!

  4. I’ve been having this interesting online conversation with a writer friend about Gillian Flynn. We think she is mining this new vein in women’s fiction which is about women being bad without being apologetic for it, about them being out and out bad and determined to get their way and all the things that were VERBOTEN in the Ladies’ Handbook, which has been reprinted since the Gutenberg press got going. We were comparing this to a lot of male thriller writers (Gresham in particular) who like male characters to lie and cheat and betray a bit, but still be fundamentally good and lovable. It’s a new dark-and-unrepentent vein for the female characters in Flynn, and you’ve gotta love someone trying out something new and daring. I will be most interested to know what you think of Gone Girl.

  5. I own this! no, wait. Somebody loaned it to me and it sits forlorn on my borrowed-from shelf. I’m going in reverse order, I guess. I read Gone Girl and want to get to this soon.

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