Monday, August 25, 2014

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

Novel Conversations is reading Gone Girl this month, which I have already read. Since I didn't think I could stomach a re-reading, I decided to try another Gillian Flynn novel, Dark Places. Libby Day is in her early 30s. She has lived her entire adult life on donations sent to her after the grisly murder of her two sisters and her mother Patty and her teenage brother Ben was convicted of the crimes. For most of the nearly 25 years since, she has tried not to think about the crimes or her imprisoned brother or  how she might create an actual life for herself. Then her lawyer tells her there is less than $1000 left in her trust and she needs to find a job.

Libby, however, doesn't see herself as the type of person who can be relied on to show up for work every day. So she becomes involved with a group of misfits, Kill Club, whose hobby is investigating old crimes. Some of the members are particularly interested in the Day case because they believe Ben was wrongly convicted and that little Libby's testimony (she was 7 at the time) was fabricated. Members of the club, led by the sad-sack Lyle, offer to pay her to talk to people who might know something about the case, in hopes of determining what really happened on that terrible night in 1985. They believe people will be more likely to talk to Libby than to them, and she agrees to do it for the money.  Libby sets off on her investigations, talking to her brother for the first time in 24 years and finally looking through some of her family's belongings, boxed for more than two decades (in part, she looks through the items with the intent of selling some of them to Kill Club members). She looks up her ne'er-do-well father and contacts such other people as a younger girl Ben was accused of molesting.

Flynn intercuts accounts of Libby's activities in the present with Ben and Patty's narrations of events on the day of the murders. Both Ben and Patty are spiraling downward--Ben because he has, in his desperation not to be the weird poor kid too small for sports, made several bad decisions about who to hang out with and Patty because her financial situation is reaching desperate straits and rumors about Ben's behavior (involving both child molestation and devil worship) are circulating around their small Kansas town as fast as a plains tornado. Meanwhile, back in the "now," Libby is finding that she wants to know what happened for her own sake, not for the morbid curiosity of the Kill Club. While I was convinced at one point that the book was going to end without unearthing the truth, that did not happen.

Dark Places is definitely dark; the rapidity with which things can go wrong is stunningly depicted, as is the effect that becoming pro-active can pull a person back from the brink. While Libby starts as an obnoxious character, she grows more sympathetic as she struggles to make sense of what happened to her family. For me, this is a key difference with Gone Girl, in which the reader becomes more and more convinced that the characters are unredeemable; here, Libby redeems herself, making Dark Places a more palatable, though still disturbing, read.

Favorite passages:
Coffee goes great with sudden death.

That's what they were: a home past its expiration date.

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