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.


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.

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

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl Is a Nasty Treat

Since this book was touted as having a real nasty female character, the “gone girl” of the title, I’ve been looking forward to reading it all summer. I’ve always liked a bad girl, so I was completely surprised to find this one almost too nasty to take.

Gone Girl is told from two perspectives in a failing marriage. There’s Nick, a likable guy from Missouri, who was living the dream in Brooklyn. He writes about pop culture for a well-known magazine, and then he meets Amy, a girl almost too good to be true, at a writers’ party. He loses her number, but somehow fate means for these two to be together, and he runs into her again at a Park Slope deli. He doesn’t make the same mistake again. After a perfect courtship, the two marry, living in a beautiful apartment that’s been bought and paid for with Amy’s money, because as well as being perfect, she’s rich.

Amy is the only child of two psychologists, who have pretty much documented her entire child- and adulthood in a series they co-wrote called Amazing Amy. Amy is a writer as well, though maybe viewed as a minor one compared to her husband (or in his opinion, anyway). She writes the quizzes that appear in the pages of women’s magazines, so a reader can find out how far from or close to perfect she is. As Amy goes about her life, the text is riddled with these self-designed quizzes while she tries to figure out what to do next. She always knows the perfect way to act even if she’s not feeling the genuine emotion behind the act.

Things have been going well in their New York City world until the recession of 2008 hits and the field of publishing is decimated. First, Nick loses his job, and then Amy’s goes. They’re left bouncing off of each other in their apartment, lounging in their pajamas past noon and reading every page of the newspaper. Then Nick’s parents start failing. His mother has a late stage of cancer and is dying while his father (who Nick has conflicting feelings about) appears to have been struck with some form of Alzheimer’s. Nick’s twin sister Mo has moved back to Missouri from New York to care for their parents, and Nick decides to put a stop to his inertia and what he sees as the first frayings of his marriage by moving back to help out.

Amy’s parents experience a downturn in their fortunes and Amy is no longer as well off as she one was, but she allows much of her last money to be invested in Nick’s new venture, a bar that he opens with his sister called The Bar. Amy hates the McMansion that she and Nick now live in and makes digs about it all the time, and Nick retreats to The Bar—which has become more like his clubhouse, his home away from the one he doesn’t like so much—as his marriage disintegrates.

On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing in what looks to have been a violent confrontation in their home. Nick acts shady from the start, not having a believable alibi for the time he was supposedly away from the house and lying to the cops about other things as well. Then evidence starts to creep up that seems to implicate Nick in what looks more and more like the murder of his wife.

Amy is a lover of games and presents her husband with a very special one that she designs herself for each of their wedding anniversaries. She had been disappointed with Nick’s capacity to understand and get her anniversary treasure hunt in the past, so she dumbs down the fifth-year hunt, and Nick goes clue to clue, trying to figure out what happened to his wife.

Nick grows more and more distasteful as the story progresses, and my fingers itched to move ahead in the story and find some sort of nice instead of being infected by the millions of hurts that these people inflict on each other in what has become a pus-filled marriage; I didn’t, though. I read the story sequentially and started to think about two other writers who had a contentious marriage: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. It’s somewhat of a mystery how their marriage actually ended since Sylvia committed suicide after Ted left her, but Ted said the affair he was having was really nothing and Sylvia knew he was coming back to her. Her journals from that time period were burned by Ted because he said they were so unbelievably ugly that he didn’t want his children ever to see them. I can believe this. Sylvia had a mean streak that came out in her journals (the published ones), and I’m sure that being a scorned woman would bring this out even more. But what if Sylvia had acted like Amy, and Ted had acted like Nick in this modern story of a marriage gone bad? I started thinking of Gone Girl in this light and found the story much more palatable. Gone Girl is a well-written book with eerily observed insights into the human psyche, such as this passage, where Nick finds his wife’s condescension even creeping into his writing:

“Writers (my kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people whose brains don’t work quick enough to blog or link or tweet, basically old, stubborn blowhards) were through. We were like women’s hat makers, or buggy-whip manufacturers: Our time was done. Three weeks after I got cut loose, Amy lost her job, such as it was. (Now I can feel Amy looking over my shoulder, smirking at the time I’ve spent discussing my career, my misfortune, and dismissing her experience in one sentence. That, she would tell you, is typical. Just like Nick, she would say. It was a refrain of hers: Just like Nick to…and whatever followed, whatever was just like me, was bad.)”

I think that’s why I found the story so disturbing. It’s too easy to see this as being real life and not fiction.