Dark Places

By Gillian Flynn

Book Cover: Dark PlacesDark 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.


Sequels, Follow Ups, Trailers, and Recommendations

As the holidays come barreling towards us, I first want to point you toward my entry last year on good Christmas books. I haven’t started my annual rereads yet, but I need to get on that. It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me until I’ve read a few Connie Willis short stories.


But if you don’t want to create an entire holiday reading plan, here a few other things that have come up lately that relate to some of my past posts.

Remember when I raved about The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson? And said that I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be part of a series? It is! The second book, The Crown of Embers, is out now and it might be even better. I’m not going to go into any detail, since talking about this one would spoil the first one, but I loved it and it reminded me a lot of Bitterblue. The only downside is that it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger–Elisa’s story is clearly going to be a trilogy.

Now remember when I, and everyone else in the world, raved about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn? I recently read one of the books she wrote before that, Sharp Objects, and it was equally compelling and creepy. In fact, if anything I felt even ickier after reading that one. So if you liked Gone Girl and want to read a disturbing mystery novel, Sharp Objects is perfect. (Also, we get a surprising number of Google hits on things like “gone girl linda holmes hugged the book.” So for the record, future Google searchers, I feel confident that she hugged the book at the point where Amy’s journal ends, and that next section of the book starts. Is that clear without being too spoiler-y?)

One of the best things about seeing the last Twilight movie in the theater (oh yes, I did), was that they showed about 10 different awesome previews. My sister was thrilled about the Catching Fire trailer, but I was most excited about City of Bones. I’ve already explained how much I like those books and, at least in the previews, it seemed like they had the look of everything right. I am too old to recognize any of the teenagers playing the leads in the movie, but I am excited about the parental-level casting. Aidan Turner, who was a vampire in the Being Human series (the BBC one, not the Scyfy remake), is Luke and Jonathan Rhys Myers is absolutely perfect as evil, creepy Valentine.

Finally, if you’re not already reading Tomato Nation, well, I don’t see what you’re even doing on the Internet. But just in case, one of the recent entries in her advice column, the Vine, asked readers for book suggestions for preteen/teenage readers. The comments on the entry are great, reminding me of YA books I loved and introducing me to some new ones. The comments to Anna’s recent Sunshine post included some discussion about what ages that book would be appropriate–the comments on that Vine post might provide some other great options.

Gone Girl

I am fully aware that recommending Gone Girl at this point is like making sure that everyone knows that Apple makes a nice phone. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, seems like the book of the summer and everyone has read it/is reading it/is recommending it. Well, that’s because it’s AWESOME. I picked it up to read on a business trip, thinking that it was a sizable enough book it should last few though a few days of work and travel. I started it when I got to the airport, read like a mad person, and finished it before I even got to my destination. It made summer afternoon air travel–which included thunderstorm delays, a drunk guy getting escorted off the plane, and a transfer in Charlotte (haaaate)–all seem enjoyable.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s the story of a woman who has gone missing, a la Dateline or 48 Hours or one of those awful-true crime shows. Did her husband do it? He claims to be innocent, but each chapter reveals a new bit of information that makes the reader swing back and forth between being sure he’s guilty and having no idea what happened. I believe that people call books like this “literary mysteries” or “literary thrillers,” maybe to try to make themselves feel better about reading a really exciting, plot-driven book? But there’s no need to worry on that front–it is a thriller, but what makes the book stand out are the really finely-drawn characters and focused writing. Even though your perceptions of the husband and wife are constantly changing, they feel like very complete, real people, and there is not an unnecessary word in the book. And the plot twists make the reading experience a bit like a roller coaster. The fabulous Linda Holmes from Pop Culture Happy Hour said that when she read this there was a point at which something happened, and she actually closed the book and hugged it. And I know exactly what point she’s talking about because I DID THAT TOO. My airplane seatmate thought I was crazy. I don’t care how many thrillers and mystery novels you’ve read, this one takes you to new places and does it in new ways.

I should say that this is not a happy books, and you end up spending hours of time with unlikeable people doing despicable things. I felt sort of icky when I had finished, but I was enthralled the whole time. If you have a plane flight or jury duty or just a free weekend day coming up, and you need a book that will make eight hours feel like nothing, Gone Girl should be at the top of your list.