Thursday, November 13, 2014

Book Review: "Sharp Objects" (Gillian Flynn)

Before Gillian Flynn wrote Gone Girl, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller, she wrote Sharp Objects, a psychological thriller/mystery, in 2006-7. Sharp Objects was her debut novel, and its brilliance has been largely overshadowed by the rampant success of Gone Girl in the last few years.

Sharp Objects is told from the first-person perspective of Camille Preaker, a newspaper reporter who works in Chicago but grew up in the sort of small town you want to flee at the first available opportunity when you're finally old enough to do so. Camille is sent back to her hometown after many years away to investigate and report on the grisly murders of two young girls, one recent, one a year ago.

Her presence back home torches off a flood of nightmarish memories from her childhood, when her younger sister Marian died of a long-term, unexplained illness. Now, Camille's trapped back in her childhood home with her neurotic, controlling mother; her colorless, voiceless step-father; and her bewitching, spoiled half-sister Amma.

She finds herself unable to handle the tension and stress of being back home, and realizes that she's not nearly as emotionally stable or as healed from past psychological trauma as she thought. Meanwhile, the police chief in town has nothing to say, and the homicide investigator from Kansas City, sent down to Missouri to help with the case, is surly, aloof, and similarly closed-mouthed.

Before long, it becomes clear to Camille that there are more secrets in her hometown, and more skeletons in the closets of its civilians, than anybody is willing to acknowledge. Further investigation reveals that there was something odd about her sister Marian's death, so many years ago, and that the three deaths, long past and more recent, may be tied together and shockingly interconnected to the most influential family in Wind Gap.

Thrillers by definition require quick pacing, and Flynn is more a master than most others I've read in the genre at maintaining the tension through the entire story line. Even descriptions of setting and people contribute to the psychological uncertainty that hangs over the story; Flynn leaves no detail untouched.

Further, Camille is a highly sympathetic protagonist; instead of becoming a victim and a martyr, her struggle to deal with her past has left her stronger and more rational than most everyone else she interacts with in her hometown, which is positively crawling with selfish, creepy people determined to keep their secrets hidden, whatever it takes.

One of the highest compliments I can pay an author of this caliber is to say that I could never have predicted that final revelation at the story's conclusion. "Shocked" and "horrified" don't begin to describe my feelings when I read those last several chapters and realized, truly, the wholly depraved depths to which people will stoop to get what they want and accomplish their own terrible agendas.

Sharp Objects is not for the faint of heart, but if you're someone who likes to be kept on the edge of your seat and laying awake nights until that last plot twist, don't hesitate to take my wholehearted recommendation for Gillian Flynn's work.

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Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
ISBN: 978-0-307-34155-6
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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