WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.
NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.
HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.
With its taut, crafted writing, Sharp Objects is addictive, haunting, and unforgettable.
This is Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, and it seems that I have read her books backwards: now I have arrived at the beginning. This author has made a name for herself crafting women that you love to hate, deeply unlikeable characters that are just not right.
While Camille certainly embodies the phrase “not right”, once you meet her mother Adora, you can tell that she comes by it honestly. Adora’s particular strain of madness makes you feel sorry for Camille, so that you can almost rationalize Camille’s faults.
Let me set up this scene: Adora was raised with money, as her family owned the hog factory that supplied the bulk of the jobs for the area’s residents. Her mom was apparently a piece of work as well, who never showed one ounce of affection for her daughter, only disapproval and criticism. When Adora was 17 she became pregnant with Camille. Camille has never met her father, and only knows the barest facts about him; Adora married a son of some family friends, Alan. Alan and Adora had Marian, the little sister whom Camille loved dearly. But Marian was “sickly” and died very young. Her death caused trauma in both Camille and Adora - they had never been close, but instead of embracing her remaining child Adora pushed Camille further and further away.
For the rest of her early life Camille was in what I can best describe as an emotional void. Camille has no moral guide, no self esteem at all, and a deep seated need for approval that manifests itself in the worst possible ways. You just feel horrible for her, for the unloved and mistreated child that she was. Camille eventually escaped out of Wind Gap and into Chicago, where she winds up a reporter. Her childhood left scars both physical and psychological, which she is still dealing with. As the teaser above tells us, Camille has returned to Wind Gap to try to uncover the mystery behind the murder of two young girls. The somewhat self sufficient adult she has become (not really) collides violently her past the moment she sets foot back in her mother’s home. Personally, I don’t see why she didn’t save herself the torture and get a hotel. After the life she’s had, there would be no way I would willingly put myself back in the same situation. I spent a good bit of time in this novel shaking my head and wondering "WTF?".
I found the storyline of the murders interesting, but the “main” storyline to me was Camille’s interactions with her mother and her 13 year old sister, Amma. Amma - every time this kid opens her mouth in this book I want to punch her. Adora dotes on Amma to the extent of it being sickening, and Amma acts like a much smaller girl when she is around her mother. Away from her she is a little hellion, a mean girl of the first order. She’s a stone cold little bitch, and probably the most unlikeable character Flynn has ever written. But even so, you can see where she gets it from: she too, comes by it honestly. Adora forbids Camille from saying that she is investigating or mentioning anything about the murders. She is trying to pretend that Camille is only there for an unexpected and rather unwanted visit instead of why she is really there. Adora plays at being weak; she tries to give the impression that she is an easily sickened, easily offended delicate flower, like the very mention of any unpleasantness makes her physically ill. The double talk just straight out made me nuts, probably because I have encountered some of the same in my own life. You probably have too: has anyone ever told you there are some things that people “just don’t talk about”?
The murders Camille is there to investigate involve two young girls. Both were strangled, neither was assaulted. But all of their teeth were removed. That fact left me scratching my head. Camille is actually involved in finding the body of the second victim, who was only missing when she arrived in town. She makes contact with Richard, a visiting detective from Kansas City, who wants to pick her brain for an outsider/insider’s view of the town mentality. He becomes fond of her, and I wish I could say that Camille felt the same, but she reacts to Richard much as she has to most people in her life - with a disturbing lack of emotion. She swans about town, sometimes finding out something interesting, sometimes not - it’s like you’re figuring out the clues yourself, trying to pick them out of her swimmy brain as she encounters them. The book passes by in an almost surreal haze.
The details of the murders are blurry and insubstantial; you find yourself infected with Camille’s apathy throughout. Camille is erratic, lackadaisically going about the investigation - she’s interested, but only barely. She’s intimidated by the fact that the murders involve people her mother knows - Adora’s shadow is over her the whole time. At one point she is trying to interview the parents of one of the slain girls, when her mother arrives at the house for a social visit. Adora tells the father that she’s sorry her daughter is “bothering” them, and orders Camille out of the house.
The police are doggedly insisting that the main suspect is either a drifter from out of town, or the brother of one of the girls. Camille discovers that neither one of the children were saints: both had behavioral problems, violent problems. Camille slowly unearths some semblance of the truth from the lies surrounding her, but it is not until she confronts a ghost from her own past that the ultimate horrific truth is revealed.
I ran across an essay that Gillian Flynn wrote, and to end this review I feel like this quote sums it all up nicely:
“Female violence is a specific brand of ferocity. It's invasive. A girlfight is all teeth and hair, spit and nails — a much more fearsome thing to watch than two dudes clobbering each other. And the mental violence is positively gory. Women entwine. Some of the most disturbing, sick relationships I've witnessed are between long-time friends, and especially mothers and daughters. Innuendo, backspin, false encouragement, punishing withdrawal, sexual jealousy, garden-variety jealousy — watching women go to work on each other is a horrific bit of pageantry that can stretch on for years.”
Write on, lady, write on.
I just can’t wait for her next book.
Here is the link, should you wish to read the rest of the essay:
Until next time, keep the pages turning.