Books: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Today we’re going to be talking about Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, an author probably best known to most audiences as the author of Gone Girl, which was turned into a successful 2014 film directed by David Fincher. Sharp Objects is Flynn’s first novel, published in 2006, and it was also adapted in 2018 as an eight-episode miniseries for HBO. I admit I haven’t seen the series, but from the synopsis I read, it seems to hew fairly close to the book, and garnered some positive reviews. I’ll get around to it one of these days.

The book, though, is pretty amazing, I have to say. I easily read the entire thing in one day (not all that much of a brag, as it’s only about 250 pages, but still), and despite its relative brevity, a LOT of fucked-up shit happens in it, and Flynn really does amass an incredible amount of character depth just in those few pages.

It seems as though this novel is generally classified as a mystery thriller, rather than a horror novel, and though it’s technically (sort of) about an investigation into finding a serial killer, I would categorize this as not so much a “whodunnit” type mystery, as it’s fairly simple to find out who the killer is and at least get a ballpark idea of what’s going on vis-à-vis the solution of the crime. The narrative, then, seems much more focused on a psychological character study of our main protagonist, and the serial killer stuff is just an entertaining backdrop.

Our main character is a woman named Camille Preaker, and the entire book is told from her point of view, in the first person. She grew up in this little bitty town known as Wind Gap, Missouri, a locale mostly known for hog farming. Her family was and is very wealthy, as her mother Adora owned several hog farms, meaning that a large number of Wind Gap residents were Adora’s employees.

Camille, despite growing up in a mansion in the lap of luxury, didn’t have the happiest of childhoods, largely because her mother Adora is a stone-cold thundercunt. Cold, distant, imperious, and generally horrible to be around, Adora’s “parenting” eventually caused young Camille to begin self-harming and turning to the bottle for relief. She ended up spending a while in a mental institution as a youth due to her cutting, which took the specific form of carving words into her own flesh.

When the book begins, in fact, Camille is still struggling with alcoholism. Though she has managed to move to the big city of Chicago, she’s working for a third-tier paper whose editor has bigger aspirations and wants to get that big story to push up circulation numbers. To wit, he decides to send Wind Gap native Camille back to her hometown, since there are rumors that a child-slaying serial killer might be making the small town his hunting ground. One little girl’s body has been found with all of her teeth removed, and another little girl is missing and presumed a victim of the same murderer.

A reluctant Camille goes back to Wind Gap to cover the story, and because her cheap-ass paper won’t pay for a hotel, she is forced to stay with her mother and stepfather, who after Camille left home had another child of their own: a snotty little thirteen-year-old asshole named Amma. I should also note that Camille had a younger sister named Marian who died of some unspecified illness years before.

The relationship between the mom and the daughters in this book is extremely dysfunctional and fucked up. One of the issues Camille had as a child was the fact that her mother always doted on the younger sister Marian, and acted like Camille was some sort of pariah. A similar dynamic is playing out now, with Amma, who acts like the world’s most perfect princess when her parents are around, receiving lavish affection from Adora, but is a complete and total hellion when out from under their scrutiny. Drugs, partying, promiscuity, pointless cruelty; trust me, if you don’t want to read about a thirteen-year-old girl getting up to some intensely hinky shenanigans, then this isn’t the book for you.

As I mentioned, although this is a serial killer story, the mystery aspect is not really the main thrust of the narrative, and you’ll probably be able to guess pretty much who the killer is and what’s going on without too much trouble. The investigation aspect is secondary, though, to the novel’s main strength, which is the examination of Camille’s damaged psyche, and the way her horrific relationship with her mother affected her and continues to affect her in unexpected ways. Seriously, the way her mother treats her, and just the way she acts in general, is atrocious, and had me thanking whatever stars will listen that I grew up with a normal mom who loved me and didn’t constantly undermine my very existence. Yikes.

There is also another fascinating angle dealing with the oppressiveness of this small town, the way the murders of the little girls turn the paranoid residents against one another, and how that further fractures Camille’s ability to get her shit together.

This was actually one of the best, most accomplished first novels I think I’ve ever read, and though it did take me a couple of pages to really get into the voice of the main protagonist, after I caught that wave, it was off to the races. I have seen criticisms that the character of Camille was unlikeable, which I get, but I was inclined to be more sympathetic, in spite of her prickliness. She reminded me a great deal, in fact, of the character of Jessica Jones, from the Marvel series of the same name, who also had a really messed up past and dealt with it by erecting a hard shell around herself, drinking, making really questionable decisions about who to sleep with, and so forth. It was a similar kind of situation here.

If I had one minor criticism, it would be that the end felt slightly abrupt, though that might have been just because I had figured out who the killer was long before, so there was no big A-HA kind of moment. From what I’ve read of Flynn’s other novels, I’ve gathered that she usually does a sort of twist ending, and then another OH SHIT kinda twist, which she also does here. I don’t know if I would call it a real twisty twist, because I sort of knew where it was going to go, but it did seem as though it just ended, then there was a short epilogue where all kinds of crazy shit happened with not much expansion upon said crazy shit. I didn’t mind it all that much, as it did provide something of a punch-in-the-gut impact at the end, but I’m still debating whether I would have liked the ending revelations to be fleshed out somewhat more.

That said, though, I actually loved this novel quite a bit, and found it a really captivating and epically messed up on many levels. If you’re a fan of Gone Girl, or of serial killer thrillers in general, I would definitely recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s