Dark Places

May 9, 2013 - Dark Places (Gillian Flynn). The author of Gone Girl followed her 2006 debut, Sharp Objects, with this equally disturbing novel from 2009.

The main character here is a 30-ish woman named Libby Day. She's shorter than average. She's also missing a few fingers and toes, casualties of being outside in the cold for hours the night her mother and sisters were murdered. The horrific crime happened early in the morning of January 3, 1985, and has become infamously known as the Satan Farmhouse Massacre in Kinnakee, Kansas. Libby survived and her brother, Ben, who was 15 at the time, is doing life for the murders. Libby provided the testimony that sent him to prison.

Libby has spent the years following the murders moving from relative to relative and living off a fund originally set up to accept donations from sympathetic people. Now, Libby has alienated even her devoted aunt and the fund is almost empty. So, when Libby is approached by a group that offers to pay her for inside access to the key players in the case, Libby agrees. The quest causes Libby to rethink her confidence in Ben's guilt and brings her into contact with some very dangerous people who want to add one more name to the list of Day Family Murders.

Dark Places is similar to Sharp Objects in several ways. It's filled with seriously flawed characters that, in other books, might be considered villains. In Libby's case (as in Camille's, from Sharp Objects), her personality and character flaws are manifested in a physical way.

The book also features Flynn's unique way with words. Again, I was struck by how she can express a concept or describe something by combining words in ways I never would have thought of but which are always spot on. Example: The neighborhood had thrived back in the stockyard era then spent many decades the-opposite-of thriving.

The key difference here is in the intricacy of the storytelling. Sharp Objects was two-dimensional. I think of it as one of those 5x5 puzzles where you move 1x1 squares around until you form a complete picture. Dark Places is more three-dimensional, like a Rubik's Cube. The narrative is told from the perspective of several characters – Libby in the present, her mother and brother in the past. Chapters of past and present alternate, so the reader's perception is constantly shifting as blanks are constantly filled in until the true picture is finally revealed. Very enjoyable.