If you love books, you know that horrible scenario that frequently happens...you're snuggled in bed, reading the most engaging and enthralling book and with less than 10% to go, your eyes start feeling heavy. You catch yourself nodding off, yet you must keep reading. You need to know how it ends! Yawn. Finally, you come to your senses. You put the book down and turn off the lights, for it's better to wait until the morning when you're fully rested, than to ruin the ending of the book because you're too exhausted to appreciate it.
That's how I spent the last handful of chapters with Gillian Flynn's marvelous thriller, Dark Places. I had to put it down and finish it first thing when I woke up the next morning, which was an hour earlier than normal. I had to know the ending!
I've now read all of Flynn's novels and she is definitely one of my favorite authors. I normally don't gravitate towards anything labeled suspense/thriller/mystery, but what sets Flynn's novels apart is her keen ability to create fascinating characters. Sure, her stories have a solid mystery element (I really didn't know how it would all play out until the very end), but what keeps me reading are the great characters.
Set in a rural farming community in Kansas, Dark Places follows an unlikely heroine, Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters are brutally murdered when Libby was seven years old. Libby narrowly escaped being murdered herself and gave questionable testimony that named her older brother, Ben, as the perpetrator. The story is told through flashbacks to the early 1980's, in the weeks leading up to the crime and in the present, where a thirty-something Libby is trying to come to terms with her past and to figure out if her brother has been serving a life sentence for a crime that he didn't commit.
Just as the title implies, this story is dark, violent and very disturbing. In particular, there is a very gruesome chapter involving teenagers in a satanic cult and cow mutilation. Flynn writes characters who are rough around the edges and who are occasionally completely immoral, with no redemption. There is good in many of the characters, but it's not a given. I find this a big part of the appeal to her stories. Her characters are not like people that I know and they live lives that are vastly different from my own, yet she writes them in a way that's completely believable, even if I've never encountered it. Flynn writes and I happily go along for the ride.
I read that the movie version is to be released this year, with Charlize Theron taking on the lead role of Libby Day. She is not how I envisioned the character while reading the book, but Theron doesn't shy away from gritty, so I'm sure that she will do it justice. Libby Day is not a pretty character. It should make for a good film, but do yourself a favor and read the novel first. Flynn has such a masterful way with words that it would be a real shame to only know this story through the film adaptation. Also, don't write this story off as genre fiction, it is filled with strong literary merit and Flynn is a worthy writer.