Saturday, September 15, 2012
Musings On: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
The story begins with the backdrop of two murders: Ann Nash and Natalie Keene, from really small town Wind Gap, Mo. The girls were murdered in such similar manner and close timespan that the cops are sure they are working with a serial killer. Camille, Chicago Journalist and former Wind Gappian is given the assignment of following the stories of the two murdered girls to report back to her newspaper, the Daily Post. With newspaper sales declining, her editor, Curry, is looking for a good story to help catapult the Daily Post into a more mainstream market. Camille, troubled by ghosts of Wind Gap past, doesn't look forward to the assignment and goes along with it grudgingly.
Camille arrives back in Wind Gap on the heels of the second girl, Natalie Keene's murder and she finds the town in the same state she left it in. Elitist and pitiful. The rich and powerful rule the town - right down to the young popular girls who preside over the lesser with their pretty faces, biting words, and in-your-face attitudes that demand respect or else, while the poor, less influential suffer them in silence. Camille's family is of the upper crust of Wind Gap but that doesn't mean that she had it good growing up. Her mother, Adora, makes Joan Crawford's depiction in Mother Dearest seem like child's play. She's emotionally manipulative and detached as a mother. Her lack of love for Camille led to Camille's need to self harm and is much of the reason why Camille has a dictionaries wealth of words cut into her skin. Her little sister, Amma, who Camille barely knows, is beautiful and popular like Camille once was. She has a cutting tongue and is prone to tantrums. Rounding out Camille's dysfunctional family is her step father Alan, who is oblivious and of little consequence.
Camille is in fresh hell back in Wind Gap. Her old friends are the same catty, mean spirited girls, only now a decade older. The town is virtually unmoved aside from a new retail store or two. The biggest excitement the town has seen in forever are the murders of Ann and Natalie.
With the help of lead detective Richard Willis and interviews with townspeople and the victims families, Camille starts piecing together the story that she's not sure is worthy of critical attention. As her story progresses, Camille regresses. She gets sucked into the Wind Gap vortex. It is a place she doesn't want to be but doesn't know where she'd rather be either. Her relationship with her mother is strained and deteriorating, and then there is Amma. Beautiful Amma, whom Camille wants badly to understand and to save before Wind Gap and Adora damage her sister the way they did her.
To describe this book in one word? Miserable.
That's all I kept thinking as I inched further along into the story. There is nothing root worthy about any of the characters. Even Camille I had trouble connecting with on any level other than how miserable she was. The town of Wind Gap is described in such a way that it became a cloying dreck of a place to read about and just as disturbing as it's residents.
Near the end I kept asking myself why it was I kept going? Why not just set it aside and pick up something less... less? The answer was that I needed to know how it ended. I had already invested my time and energy into these horrible people and I really had to see why and if my time was worth it in the end. The answer is both yes and no. Yes, after I got past the initial stop and go prose, the writing became really good. I enjoyed Flynn's way with words and descriptions. She structured words in such a way that it didn't take a paragraph to give me a tangible image of the town or a person or a feeling or smell. All it took was a simple sentence. And no. These characters, in the end, none of them were worth it. I never liked anyone, I understood them somewhat but I didn't sympathize with them or feel anything other than sorry for the lot of them, not because they were sympathetic, but because they were so miserable.
Now that I've sufficiently overused the word miserable, it no longer has much of an impact. It has become aimless and unaffected. You see miserable and don't even blink or conjure up images of misery because it is overdone and annoying, right? That is how I felt about the characters in this book. It was as though they were all relentlessly screaming: "Look at me, look at me! I'm really messed up! Look at how messed up in the head I am!"
As a whole, Sharp Objects works for what it is; a gritty psychological thriller. The mystery of the serial killer wasn't hard to figure out but I did like how things were revealed. After closing this book, I was left with the feeling that I had just come out of a dark and twisty tunnel and into bright, welcoming sunlight. I was happy to have it all behind me and be done, but just a little haunted by what I'd experienced during my journey there. I would say that is exactly how Gillian Flynn wanted readers to feel. So, job well done. Grade C