By Gillian Flynn
Dark Places made me feel terrible, but at the same time I read it straight through in just three days, staying up far too late into the nights.
Kinsey has previously reviewed two of Gillian Flynn’s novels, Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, and had recommended Dark Places to our friend Cara. (Kinsey in fact said that when Cara asked for summer reading recommendations, Kinsey, knowing her tastes, combed through all of her recent favorites for the most grim and depressing.) When I went to visit Cara a couple of weeks ago, I picked up her copy to just check out the first few pages. One of the first things I did when I got home was put a reserve on it at my library and then waited with literary withdrawal symptoms (lack of focus, irritability…) for my request to come in.
The book follows Libby Day, the sole survivor at the age of seven of her family’s massacre, supposedly by her older brother in a Satanist sacrifice. At the beginning of the book, she is a severely emotionally stunted adult who simply lives off of the charity donations that accumulated during the news frenzy of her family tragedy. She is nearing the end of her funds when she is contacted by a club of true crime fans who want to pay her to help them prove her brother’s innocence. She agrees solely out of financial desperation but becomes caught up in the investigation herself.
The book seesaws between Libby’s current search for the truth and first-person perspectives from both her mother and brother on the day before the massacre. I mean this as a total compliment, but as I read through it, the sense of doom and accumulating circumstances felt very real, like gathering storm clouds. (This is not a good book for Rebecca.) Like Kinsey described in Gone Girl, as a reader you have no idea how it is going to pan out, and keep wavering in each chapter: did the brother do it? Surely not, but wait, did he, though?
One night, after finally tearing myself away from the book, I was thinking about how insane all of this Satanist stuff sounds, like just completely bonkers, and all of a sudden I remembered it! For those of you who didn’t live through the 80’s, it sounds completely absurd, and it absolutely is, but it was also truly there: this very real fear that there were Satanist cults lurking in every town, just waiting to grab young children off the street and sacrifice them in a violent ritual. It is so ridiculous (and eventually discovered to be totally unfounded) in retrospect that I had completely forgotten about it until this book, and suddenly I remembered as a child, peering into graffitied tunnels (where I’m sure the local teens just went to smoke) and thinking, “that could be a lair for the Satanists.”
It really kind of boggles the mind when this kind of national hysteria occurs, and one of the most powerful aspects of this book is that it really brings home how unlucky individuals can be destroyed before we all recover our senses.
That is such a great description of this book–it makes you feel terrible, but you can’t stop reading! And man, I cannot remember hating a character in a book as much as I hated the brother’s girlfriend in this one.
I know I’ve said this before, but if you liked this, you should try some of Tana French’s mysteries, starting with In the Woods.
Seriously, I kept getting sadder and more anxious as I read, but I could barely put down the book even to eat and sleep! I’d forgotten about your recommendation for Tana French, but I’d intended to check her out, so I definitely will now.
Do you remember the crazy Satanist scare in the 80s? I remember in both Boston and Austin, so it was at least that wide-spread.