My family is full of super weirdos. My father loves Halloween and from September 1 until the middle of November every year, my parents’ house is filled with the life-size monsters he’s built, using PVC pipe and rubber costume masks and the oscillating motors from fans. Something gruesome greets you on the porch and in the entryway and on the stairs and by the bathroom. My mother has a soft spot for the Day of The Dead, and I grew up amidst a fairly sizable collection of small colorful clay skeletons, like for instance, the ashtray shaped like a bathtub with a lady skeleton reclining in it that she uses as a candy dish. My aunt wrote and self-published a book with a first chapter so upsetting it made me want to unread it (and I’ve actually participated in things more disgusting than what she wrote about). It’s really no wonder I turned out to be a failed forensic anthropologist. I never had a chance.
With this history in mind, in December, I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, after having it recommended to me by coworkers and parents of students and friends and essentially everyone in my life. It was a dizzying novel that held me prisoner – I finished it in a day. It was the definition of a page-turner. It was also, however, really aggravating and despite the fact that it was dark and twisted and full of crazy people (read: all the things I am genetically programmed to enjoy), after reading the last pages, I knew I hadn’t liked the book.
So imagine my surprise when the other day, I left a store with two more Gillian Flynn novels in my hands, Sharp Objects and Dark Places. I’m not sure what compelled me to pick the others up, considering I had a pretty visceral, angry reaction to Gone Girl. Regardless of why, they came home with me and, yet again, the moment I picked up Sharp Objects, I could not put it down.
Sharp Objects tells the story of a troubled reporter at a small Chicago newspaper, who is sent back to her hometown by her editor after two young girls go missing from the tiny southern Missouri town. This book, like Gone Girl, has a lot going on. It is like a plausible psychological thriller, only wearing clown makeup and blinking neon lights. All of the horrors in this story are bigger and worse and more horrible than anything could ever possibly be, and in reading this book, I’ve realized that that’s why I really disliked Gone Girl. I feel like they are great, compelling, terrifying, creative stories that suffer from being overblown. I love how gross and upsetting and weird and bizarre Gillian Flynn is willing to go. However, at a certain point (like maybe all the time), her plots are enough. When you’ve got childhood trauma and Southern wealth and missing children and festering old friends and newspaper editors and personal mental illness, do you also need adults having sex with teenagers during murder investigations and doing drugs with thirteen-year-old girls? There is such a thing as TOO MUCH.
Having said all that, I liked Sharp Objects. I would recommend it. I don’t want to give anything else away, because I think in books like these, part of the experience is the shock of whatever grotesque thing happens next, but I will say that there is (some) resolution in the ending and some hope for the future, in spite of all the craziness that brings the story to a close, and in that way, it’s different from Gone Girl.
Apparently, I can forgive anything if it is tied up (kinda) nicely with a little bow at the end.