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June 9

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Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

by Ann-Katrina

Dark Places Cover

Back Cover of Dark Places

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—famously testifying that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details, she hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings…and maybe admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her across the Midwest, the narrative flashes back to the events of that day, replayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner who’d recently begun a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Three Quick Points About Dark Places

  • Point 1: Multiple personality disorder. The book alternates between three different perspectives, the main character Libby Day (in first person), and Patty and Ben Day (in third person).
  • Point 2: A twisted Jerry Springer episode. None of the characters had any redeeming qualities, but on some level, they were truly human. And the situation, as it unfolded, was truly out there but on some level you have to wonder could this possibly happen?
  • Point 3: Smartly written. I am surprised and delighted at Flynn’s smart and fluid writing style.

Full Review of Dark Places

Before reading the full review, please note that there may be some spoilers. I tried to keep it vague enough not to spoil the entire story, but be warned. If you’d rather not take any chances, skip the synopsis and go straight to the final thoughts.

Dark Places Synopsis

The Days were not a wealthy family. In fact, money problems plagued the single mother of four and their vagrant father was little help—he was usually part of the problem. Patty Day was left to manage a family and a failing farm by herself. And that is the bleak setting for this story.

Twenty five years after her mother and two sisters were slaughtered, Libby Day finds herself nearly penniless. Since she feels she’s far too messed up to find legitimate work, she’s easily swayed into dredging up her past by the offer of quick and easy cash.

Back in early January 1985, when the unthinkable occurred, Libby’s brother Ben had been accused, arrested, and convicted of the murders—partly due to Libby’s own testimony. But as Libby starts looking at the actual events of the day, she realizes that her memories of the night might not have been accurate.

With the help of a group of Ben-lovers, Libby begins to investigate her path in order to find the truth and reconnect, on some level, with her brother.

As Libby puts the pieces of the puzzle together, working from the present to the past, we the readers get to see the events unfolding from the past to the present through Patty and Ben Day’s perspectives beginning on that fateful morning.

And the answer to the mystery is not necessarily what you think…

Final Thoughts On Dark Places

I’m still debating whether I really liked Dark Places. Actually, I know I liked the prose and flow and was enthralled by the execution, but I don’t much care for or about any of the characters. I didn’t connect to any one of them on an emotional level, nor did I sympathize.

Flynn has this way with words that just tugs at your physical senses, and she deftly handled switching between the various points of view (Libby, then Patty, then Libby, then Ben, and so forth). One problem, however, was that it became difficult to connect with the characters. Right when I thought I was finally connecting with Libby on some level, bam I’m thrown into Patty’s or Ben’s story and vice versa.

Some of the switching also provided lulls in the story right when the action from one character’s perspective began to pick up, so it was constantly building tension then dropping like a stone.

That said, it could have much more to do with the actual people themselves as opposed to Flynn’s shifting between characters. Libby is a bitter kleptomaniac who’s deeply troubled, partly due to what happened to her family and partly because that’s who she is.

Patty, though I hate to admit it, is probably a good reflection of most struggling mothers and of the three characters, I connected the most with her (despite not being a mother myself). Her stress was understandable and her motives are clear. She was real.

Ben was just twisted in ways that I’m still trying to piece together. How much can be blamed on just being a teenage boy with a sucky life and just plain having a screw loose isn’t exactly clear. Either way, I couldn’t connect with him at all. He may very well reflect some teenage boys (actually, I’m certain he does), but he was just too incongruous.

Then there’s the Ben after he’s all grown up. Him I actually relate to and was glad to see that he’d learned much from his youth (spent mostly in prison).

One section of the book completely took me out of the story. Unfortunately, I can’t say much else because it would be a HUGE spoiler. Let’s just say that a chapter just randomly appeared out of nowhere from a different perspective and it left me scratching my head and wondering WTF?

And I never did quite figure out Lyle’s entire role in the story, besides being the catalyst for Libby to learn the truth about her family’s slaughter. While on the subject of Lyle and the Kill Club, from the description, I had expected a whole lot more money to be changing hands. It just seemed odd that Libby would be so desperate for cash that she would trudge through those old memories for a few hundred dollars here and there, but I guess in Libby’s world, that’s par for course.

At the end of the day, this story needed at least one redeeming character to provide some level of balance. Lyle came close, but not quite. It would also have helped had the momentum and tension of each character’s story built upon each other. (Not to say every chapter was jarring, but a few toward the middle and end were.)

Aside from the characters, I also loved the common thread throughout the book: Money (or the lack thereof). It was interesting to watch how the desperation caused by a lack of money could destroy the lives of everyone involved and leave those in its wake an empty shell of a human.

I fluctuated between really liking and just liking this book. I loved the writing and the story, but unfortunately, the characters and the balance just left too much to be desired.

Rating: Get It Used (?)

If you enjoy dark psychological thrillers, then this may be up your alley. There’s a good chance you’ll love it, but you may be rubbed the wrong way by the characters. You’ve been warned.

Get Dark Places at Amazon

Comments on Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

  1. # ShootingStarsMag wrote on June 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm:

    I have a review of this on my blog as well. I actually really loved this story and am a big fan of Gillian Flynn’s now. I can see how some people wouldn’t like various aspects, but I found it all very interesting and I actually did sympathize with various characters…I don’t have to feel like they are like me in any way to like the book, so maybe that’s why too…

    Overall, great book in my opinion, but I enjoyed reading your review. :)

    -Lauren

  2. # Ann-Kat wrote on June 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm:

    Hey Lauren,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree that it’s a great book, but with the characters, it wasn’t so much that they needed to be like me…but, there was something that just seemed off. Hmm, it’s as if they became stale after a while. No new surprises, no redeeming qualities.

    I did sympathize quite a bit with Patty and I connected a bit with Lyle, but even their characters became stale to me too. I wonder if that makes sense. LOL

    Anyhoo, lemme know when you have your review up. I’d love to read it. It’s interesting to see different perspectives on the same title. :D

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