Flynn Gets Creepy in Dark Places

I gulped this book down in about two days, completely unprepared for it. I loved Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, such a nasty treat, and meant to read her other novels, but the wait list is long at the Brooklyn Public Library. I didn’t even know what Dark Places was about, but when I started flipping through the opening pages listing the reviews that compared it to In Cold Blood, I knew the novel had to go to the top of my book pile. In Cold Blood has to be one of the most reread novels in my house. I had to retire a copy because the cover came off and it started flaking off pages one by one.

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While I don’t know much about Kansas and the area where the Clutters were killed (the murder that’s the focus of In Cold Blood), I do know Kansas City, Missouri, and the low-rent satellite communities that surround it. I did a year of high school in Grandview, Missouri, and it was terrifying. I can remember the mean poverty surrounding me in a land of plenty, and it was a marked contrast after coming back from Germany, where my father had been stationed. Flynn recreates this setting in the most creepy and delicious of ways, and I think she gets it right: “He led me around the corner and down a hallway of former offices. I crunched broken glass, peering into each room as we passed: empty, empty, a shopping cart, a careful pile of feces, the remains of an old bonfire, and then a homeless man who said Hiya! cheerfully over a forty-ounce.”

The characters populating the story are as much of a knockout as how Flynn captures the Missouri setting. Unlikely protagonist Libby Day is in a precarious position. She’s now in her early thirties, the only other survivor besides her brother of her family’s brutal murder that happened one night in January 1985. Libby’s brother was accused of murdering her two sisters and mother; only Libby survived, after running away, though she sacrificed some toes and half a finger to frostbite.

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Charlize Theron will play the adult Libby in the movie version of Dark Places.

With Libby’s testimony, her brother is now serving a life sentence in prison and she has been living on money put up by strangers long ago in a fund in her name. Not having a job for most of her life, she’s burned through almost all of it, even when supplemented by a ghostwritten self-help book capitalizing on her story.

Libby has incomplete memories of the time the murders happened, but she starts thinking back on those events after a strange man approaches her, offering money for any mementos or recollections. She’s made her apartment and bed a cocoon from the rest of the world and would rather go back to that defining moment of her life and make money from it than to acquire new skills and go out into the world. Libby is still a brat as an adult, seemingly stuck at the age when tragedy struck, but she has her sweet moments, too.

Flynn is a master of suspense and skillful at balancing the two story lines of Dark Places. She alternates going between the events that built up to the multiple murder in 1985 and what is happening to the adult Libby as she starts recovering her memories of that time while going outside of her comfort zone and meeting new people. Flynn’s able to keep the tension mounting in both story lines until they meet and the mystery is revealed. The smallest details contribute to the major revelation at the end, but they’re not clumsy and never give the story away. I never saw the real story behind the multiple murder coming, yet it didn’t come off as implausible.

Still from the movie Dark Places , with Chloë Grace Moretz playing the meanie.

Still from the movie Dark Places, with Chloë Grace Moretz playing the meanie.

 

Flynn is one of the authors that I try and press friends to read, and when my sister was looking for a good book, I insisted she read Dark Places. She couldn’t guess the ending either, and she’s usually really good at it. We have a game we play when watching episodes of Law & Order: SVU where she has to guess the perpetrator in the first five minutes, and she almost always pegs it right. Not this time.

I really think 2014 is going to be Flynn’s year. Both Gone Girl and Dark Places will appear as movies (according to IMDb), with excellent casts attached, exposing more people to her work. Now, if only I had another Flynn novel to look forward to because I’m down to the last one.

Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn

Prometheus Gets Bogged Down by Bad Creationism

I guess I should have know what I was in for after seeing the movie posters with a head reminiscent of the statues from Easter Island, but I had seen the trailers for Prometheus a couple of months before the movie debuted. The music from Alien was used, along with a similar chase scene, making me think I was in for another hunter-hunted story like Alien delivered. But no, I was duped once again.

What did I want from Prometheus? I wanted an explanation for how the aliens came to be and why those pods were hanging out in a spaceship, like Venus flytraps, waiting for willing victims to dock. A simple explanation would have sufficed, but instead Prometheus delivers a heavy-handed origin story that references world mythologies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Christianity. The movie creaked with all the symbolism and religious overtones loaded into it, and all I really wanted to see was a good sci-fi/horror story. I didn’t need everything else about where we come from. I look to Joseph Campbell for that, or simple stories that hit the right points.

Prometheus opens with a humanoid character drinking something coffeelike that causes him to disintegrate—he falls down a waterfall into a stream and his blood and specifically his DNA and chromosomes start to corrode and morph. I’m guessing this is an allusion to the original Prometheus, which is never completely followed up. Flash-forward to a similar environment several thousands of years later, where a team of archaeologists have uncovered an artwork that corresponds with that of four other ancient civilizations, who could have had no contact with one another. The two archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green), puzzle over what the message means; they interpret it as an invitation.

The two are then shown in stasis aboard a ship as an android, David (Michael Fassbender), tends to them. David acts like a kid left home alone with complete access to the ship for years while the others sleep. He plays basketball in the large, arenalike spaces. He taps into the dreams of the crewmembers in stasis. He watches a movie over and over again, mimicking the speech patterns; studies a language that seems vaguely Arabic; and cuts, dyes, and styles his hair so as to appear as one of the characters that he likes to watch.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is the first human to wake from sleep and informs the android David to wake the others. I appreciate how the chronological time order of the Alien series is considered at this point, and the humans coming out of sleep have a rough time of it, spewing all over. In movies that are supposed to have come later in the time line (though they were filmed earlier), the human subjects rise from years-long sleep easily, seeming only to crave some food and coffee.

The crew is summoned and realize that they are chasing the dreams of a very rich and old man, who says he will be dead before they come back to Earth. Their ship is docked outside of a large, unnatural structure, and they go exploring. Inside, they find holograms depicting what happened thousands of years ago, some nonorganic “pods,” and fossils of these humanoids (called Engineers by the archaeologists), who turn out to have the same DNA as humans. A storm comes up, artifacts are brought back to the ship, and the crew is split up. Some cross-contamination occurs, and then the real purpose behind the mission is revealed, which seems to cancel out the first three-fourths of the story.

There are some good things in Prometheus. There’s some great acting by Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, and Michael Fassbender, but the motivations for these actors’ characters all fall a little short by the end. Some nice, gory parts crop up in the film, one in particular with Noomi Rapace in an impossible situation, hanging on with pure grit. However, these good bits get lost when the screenwriters, director, whoever, try and weight this movie with more importance than it can support. Allusions are made to great works, but their meanings are lost because they’re not used effectively. It all seems like so much great material thrown to the wall and what happened to stick is Prometheus, which comes off as flimsy considering its origins.