SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is a catch-22 for me. On the one hand, she makes you want to run out and read all her books as quickly as possible. On the other hand, her books are so good you’ll wish you hadn’t discovered her until she had written ten. But then you would have been missing out… Do you get the problem here?

Sharp Objects was good, not great. Dark Places was great. Gone Girl was great. Having now read all three of Flynn’s novels, it is quite obvious that Sharp Objects was her first. For a debut novel, it is impressive–the writing flows well and she handles her subject matter with flair. As with Dark Places, Flynn touches on some heavy issues which most crime writers steer clear of. But the overall story is weakened by some pacing issues, some difficult-to-believe events and a highly dissatisfying climax. But, I digress.

Flynn has a knack for creating likeable but damaged heroines and Camille Preaker is exactly that. Camille grew up in a small town called Wind Gap in Missouri and suffered the unfortunate death of her sister Marian when she was only a child. Camille left Wind Gap eight years ago and now works the crime beat in Chicago at a c-grade paper. When two girls are abducted and killed in Wind Gap, Camille’s editor sends her home to cover the story. Haunted by the childhood tragedy, Camille reluctantly returns to her hometown and to the house of her estranged mother Adora, her husband Alan and their thirteen year old daughter Amma. Camille works with Detective Richard Willis to uncover the truth in the highly protective town that has, like most good crime novels, a sinister and disturbing underbelly. Girls die in Wind Gap–and Camille could not have prepared herself for the truth she uncovers.

Sadly, though, this reader uncovered the truth quickly and was frustratingly dragged along a bit too far before the final scenes unfolded. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like in Sharp Objects. But overall I found the story clunky and unnecessarily obvious, with crucial characters, who could have brought a lot to the story, painfully silent. What I liked most, though, was Flynn’s meditations on the theme of sickness and illness. There are various kinds of sickness, and Flynn contrasts physical sickness with mental sickness and asks readers to what extent either of them are curable. Are we born with sickness within us, or is it something we learn over time? After all, we are a product of where we have come from. When all you know is sickness, can you ever truly be healed? Tough questions, and I suggest you read it to discover Flynn’s answer.

Dark Places and Gone Girl are stronger novels, but Sharp Objects is worth the read if you are a Flynn fan and need a dose of her gritty-yet-somehow-delicate content. Now that I’ve reached the end of Flynn’s list thus far, I pretty much sit around like this every day:

Hopefully I won’t have to suffer for long.

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