The book Dark Places (2009) by Gillian Flynn — the author who brought you Gone Girl and Sharp Objects — has a captivating, horrific, and thrilling storyline. It’s misanthropic tone pulled me in immediately — hook, line and sinker.
If you enjoyed Gone Girl then you will love Dark Places; the writing style and tone is consistent with Flynn’s other work.
The story is set on a farm in Kinnakee, Kansas and follows the lives of a low-economic family The Days who were murdered in a ‘Satan Sacrifice’. The protagonist Libby was only seven-years-old and survived the ordeal — along with her drunk father Runner and brother Ben who was 15-years-old when convicted and serving life in jail — and twenty-five years later goes searching for answers.
Libby’s character at 31-years-old is very engaging; with the responsibility of testifying against her own brother, the bitterness from losing her family early in life and dealing with survivors’ guilt, she lacked the foundation to become an honourable adult and is miserable and depressed. She is struggling to make ends meet and has up until now survived on donations from well-wishers. She has no job and her money is quickly running out. Therefore, when the Kill Club — a group obsessed with crimes — approached Libby for details, she reluctantly agreed to investigate the crime for a price. This prompted Libby to get outside her comfort zone and forces her to confront the realities she hasn’t allowed herself to face.
The narrative structure is just as effective as it was in Gone Girl; it alternates between present time, of Libby taking a road trip to discover more about the ordeal, and 1985 — elaborating on the details leading up to the murder from the point of view of the mother Patty and the brother Ben, which builds up the suspension and mystery. There are very small satisfying clues and pieces that foreshadow what happens in the end; building up tension which made the book a real page-turner.
The story excellently captures the everyday lives of the struggling family — both financially and psychologically. Ben’s character is very withdrawn; he is an outcast because of his odd behaviour and dark moods and changes friends in an attempt to fit in. Although he is convicted for murdering his family, his character is very easy to empathise with as he is just a misfit desperate to belong. The details leading up to the massacre put Ben’s situation into perspective, making it a very realistic scenario.
A recurring theme throughout the story is the failures of the family, how they’re shunned from the rest of the town and never mastering their environment. As Libby said to her brother Ben, “I know a little bit about trying to do the right thing and fucking up completely,” I added. “You talking about Mom?” Ben said. “I was talking about me.” “You could have been talking about all of us.”
All of the Days carried with them a shared recklessness; the mother Patty ‘knew immediately then that (Runner’d) leave, that he was not a man to depend on, that he wasn’t even a man she liked very much. And still she’d gotten pregnant three more times, because he didn’t like to wear condoms and it was too much trouble to nag.’
I believe Flynn’s message was that darkness can be found it anyone; being a victim of circumstance; owing a debt-ridden farm, living in a hostile family with a drunk dad, unable to fit into the community, then people are capable of anything.
The ending may have been the only downfall; however this more than compensated for in a gutsy and eventful plot.
The overall tone and events throughout the book is much more horrific and shocking than Gone Girl — I’m drawn to this genre, but only pick up this book if you’re prepared for some gory scenes, dark calibre and share with me this morbid fascination.
Originally published by the Australian Times.