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Dark Places: A Novel

A book by Gillian Flynn

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Wonderfully Nasty

  • Apr 23, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+4
Dark Places is a nasty little book in all the right ways.

Twenty-five years ago, while seven-year-old Libby Day hid and listened, her mother and two older sisters were massacred in their Kansas farmhouse, a crime for which her brother is serving a life sentence. Now 32, Libby has, in her own words, "a meanness" inside her. She's also blown through every dime of the money donated to her cause after the murders, and has no idea of how she's going to earn her keep until she's contacted by an odd little club obsessed with true crimes.

Members of this "Kill Club" don't believe her brother is guilty (something that Libby cannot conceive of; her testimony at the time was instrumental in his conviction) and are willing to pay Libby to talk to people that were involved in any way with the Day family at the time of the murder. Libby agrees, and so begins the unraveling of what happened that night decades earlier.

Dark Places could have easily ended up being a cliche-ridden formulaic crap-fest. It didn't. Author Gillian Flynn has chops: her writing is original and stylized without feeling forced, and I never knew when a unique turn of phrase would appear. The narrative bounces between present-day first-person (Libby's journey), and various third-person points-of-view from the time leading up to the murder. While this age-old technique generates the expected tension and cliff-hanger-like suspense, it never caused me to hurry through a passage to get back to the other side of the story; fairly unusual for me, and a testament to Flynn's substantial skill.

As the story progresses, Flynn takes us to some extremely dark places. The description of the murders is horribly disturbing, and we spend quite a bit of quality time with kids that are every parent's nightmare, doing things that you know happen but don't want to think about. At the same time though, the author explores some tough subjects that most avoid, like when and how much to believe accusations of abuse made by young children, and the reliability of memory and coached testimony (one of the problems I had with Safer (my review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R23V619JF702WP/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm ) had to do with exactly that: the author was content to walk away from the topics). Though it all, Libby goes through a believable evolution and becomes a character that it's a pleasure spending time with.

And it's all fun. The only gripe I have is that the editor could have been a bit more brutal at times. For example, consider the sentence: "The people, whoever they were, would just look at each other's shoes or shoulders until the silence settled in and then someone would put on a pot of coffee, briskly and with a fair amount of clatter." A great piece of writing, but it gets degraded when followed by "Coffee goes great with sudden death."

But that's a minor complaint, because the great stuff outweighs the stuff that should have been cut. The bottom line is that Gillian Flynn has mad skills, as the kids say today, and you never know where you'll find a pearl.

If you're looking for a dark (really dark) mystery with substantive and believable characters that you won't guess the ending of, then this is your book.

Really, it's terrific.

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More Dark Places: A Novel reviews
review by . May 02, 2009
Dark Places
    Flynn's novel has the effect of blunt force trauma. With icy precision and an eye for the consequences of poverty and despair, this novel hums with discordance and the chronic misery of a family mired in unhappiness. In January, 1985, Libby Day is the survivor of a family massacre, at seven years old the only witness to the murder of her mother and two sisters on their Kansas farm. Libby's brother, Ben, has spent the last twenty-five years in jail for what an avid press describes …
review by . June 18, 2009
For 25 years, Libby Day has avoided revisiting her memories of the horrendous night in which she heard someone murder her mother and sisters. It was her own testimony, as a 5 year old, that sent her older brother to prison for life. Now Libby is barely functioning as an independent adult. She desperately needs money, and agrees to consult with a club of murder groupies who believe her brother is innocent. It isn't long before everything she is forced to re-examine everything she knows is true. And …
review by . June 07, 2009
Libby Day was 7 years old when her brother murdered her mother and two sisters. Libby has spent 25 years believing that, and not particularly caring about it, but now she is finally starting to question what really happened on the night her family was killed-- not because of any curiosity of her own but because she has run out of money to live on and the only way she has of making money is by finding out information for a fan group that is obsessed with notorious crimes.    First …
review by . May 21, 2009
This is one of those books that pulls you in from the very first page; in this case a poem about the murders of the family. The poem is catchy in itself and reminds me of many form my own school days. Then you delve into Libby Day (the sole survivor years later) and her point of view. Right off I was addicted but also, dementedly, wishing the book actually covered that first murder. All was not lost though as flashbacks quickly played from other times and other player's points of view; and Libby …
review by . May 19, 2009
I really enjoyed this author's last novel "Sharp Objects" and so was interested in reading her new one. This one did not disappoint: it's a frightening story of murder and mayhem, and reminds one of the brutal farmhouse killings written about in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood". This massacre, however, has a survivor, a 7 year old,whose court testimony sends her teen-age brother to jail for life.    25 years pass, and a now almost penniless woman decides to make some money by …
review by . May 01, 2009
Flynn's novel has the effect of blunt force trauma. With icy precision and an eye for the consequences of poverty and despair, this novel hums with discordance and the chronic misery of a family mired in unhappiness. In January, 1985, Libby Day is the survivor of a family massacre, at seven years old the only witness to the murder of her mother and two sisters on their Kansas farm. Libby's brother, Ben, has spent the last twenty-five years in jail for what an avid press describes as "The Satan Sacrifice …
About the reviewer
Bradford Schmidt ()
Ranked #375
My background is in the arts; I designed and ran a television station in the 80's, was a record producer and independent engineer in the late 80's and early 90's, then formed one of the first online advertising … more
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ISBN-10: 0307341569
ISBN-13: 978-0307341563
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books (May 5, 2009)

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"Wonderfully Nasty"
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