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Book: Sharp Objects

June 13, 2009
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And now for something completely different.

I went from Jane Austen to this dark, sticky, disturbing razor of a book. I read about Gillian Flynn’s second book in a magazine and the review mentioned her ‘disturbing first novel,’ and since I like to read things in order, I went and got her first novel, Sharp Objects, from the library.

What a dark book. I really, really could not stop reading this. It’s not exactly a thriller, not a crime novel, not a psychological thriller, not a typcial serial-killer story… it’s just dark and dreadful and just keeps getting darker the further in you go. Like a mine, which you expect to collapse at any moment.

Camille Preaker, cub reporter (although a bit old at 30-ish to be a cub reporter, I thought), is sent on assignment from Chicago back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. Since she comes from a third-string newspaper and newspapers are notoriously cheap, she is to stay at her mother’s house as she reports on a suspected serial killer case. One little girl was found dead a year ago. And now another, similar in age and temperment, is missing. And soon turns up dead. In exactly the same way. Strangled. Groomed. With all their teeth pulled.

Gruesome.

So that storyline is disturbing enough. And we find out more details. Camille is a cutter. A self-mutilator. She was recently in an inpatient program to treat her behavior. But instead of just slicing, she cuts words. Butter. Cup. Wicked. And her last word: Vanish. She hasn’t cut herself since being out of the program. But heading back home, to stay at her mother’s house, might just send her over the edge.

So that’s pretty disturbing too.

And then there’s her mother. A Mommy Dearest if there ever was one. Sick and twisted and scary. Her mother terrified me. And the secrets that get revealed about her mother just get deeper and darker and more frightening.

And then there’s her half-sister. The terror of the local middle school. Blond and beautiful and cruel and sadistic, and of course she runs the school in that way that cruel 13-year-old girls do. Only she’s worse. Way worse. She’s on the cusp of becoming a monster, and she knows it. She doesn’t know why she does the things she does. In small, vulnerable moments, she asks Camille how she can stop doing the things she does. Of course Camille, drowning in her mother’s venom, can’t help her, can only helplessly watch, can only cling to the vines as she gets sucked back deeper and deeper into the nightmare of Wind Gap and her family.

And then there’s the pig farm. And the out-of-town detective. And the small-town meanies.

The one thing that bothered me was that there were certain small details that weren’t wrapped up quite as well as I would have liked. Creepy ‘clues’ that turned out to be explained in a very casual way. A few strong statements that were never followed up on. But those were few, and didn’t affect the book overall.

Small-town inaccuracies (how can a town that small have so many expensive homes and fancy restaurants?) and loose ends aside, this was a vicious, sharp, breathtakingly disturbing book. I thought it was excellent. The ending was scary and unnerving, although I had it figured out fairly early (but then I changed my mind a few times along the way). I felt tense and vaguely horrified most of the book, but could not stop reading.

Not exactly a comforting read, but if you are fascinated by some of the darker aspects of life and like strong female characters, this would be a good book for you. I couldn’t stop thinking about it last night after I finished it. By the way, it is NOT your average serial-killer book. It’s much less about the crime, and more about the really, really freaky family dynamics.

You know what it reminded me of? Flowers In The Attic. Although there wasn’t any of the creepy incest stuff, there was that whole scary-mommy, pale-beautiful sick children thing. An examination of how sickness like that gets passed along generation to generation. Deeply frightening and disturbing.

It suited my mood perfectly. I can’t wait to read her next book!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 9, 2011 6:56 am

    Um, how did I miss this review? (It came up in the “related topics” under your new Stephen King review.) I loved this book. Loved it in a creeped out, icked out, disgusted sort of way. I totally agree with your view of the family dynamics – every single scene with the sister I was cringing, waiting for really bad things to happen. Always.

    Have you read her second book? Dark Places? I paced through it in a day because I really couldn’t put it down. And a regular day at that, with work and dinner and all that stuff!

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