Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️
Camille is a Chicago reporter, who is tasked with returning to her Missouri home of Wind Gap, a tiny town where two young girls have turned up dead and mutilated. As the reporter on the job, she tries to reconnect with her past and wiggle her way into the heart of the mystery, but she finds that her family and the locals aren’t as welcoming to the press as she’d have preferred. She stays in her mother’s huge house on the hill, and as she interacts with her baby half-sister, Amma, a jealous and manipulative child who lingers in the shadows of their dead sister, Marian. Camille’s mother is threatening and controlling, and as she twists deeper into the murderous story, she must confront the skeletons in her family’s closet.
Flynn is famous for her novel Gone Girl, but Sharp Objects showcases her strengths as a debut thriller author. She has created a uniquely unsettling tone. Wind Gap is not quite American Gothic, not quite southern, and not quite backwoods. Flynn’s setting has a creepiness all its own.
The locals are wildly unhelpful to both Camille and the police, and the gossiping old ladies of the town are as vindictive and bitter as the acidic high-school queens. Almost everyone in this book is either a bordering psychopath, a manipulating narcissist, or straight-up evil. The resentful intentions of the characters pay off after the climax, when everything finally makes sense, but during the first 80 percent of the book, these people are just unlikeable. It’s hard to imagine a town where literally everybody is a vicious bitch, but Wind Gap seems to be that town. Camille’s mother and sister are enjoyably terrifying, but I will never not be confused by how their evil, crazy, mean streaks are just accepted as the standard. In what town are thirteen year-olds allowed to roam the streets wildly, sleep with whatever men they want to, and roll ecstasy when they get bored? Their crazy stories of sex, terrible behavior, violent bullying, and general Lolita-ness, are written off by every responsible adult. I get that it’s a small country town, but as a girl from a small, country town, you can’t get away with sh*t in a place like that.
I do absolutely wish that this book came with a trigger warning. Camille has an intense form of obsession with self-harm. When she was young, she cut words into her body, until almost the entirety of her skin was covered in scarification. Looking back at a book called Sharp Objects, I’m not surprised that this was a component, but during my reading, it honestly came up out of nowhere in a blunt way. As the story continues, we watch as Camille works to hide her scars and feels ashamed at having to do so, and the reaction of her lovers and family reminds us that Camille is a freak. I hated the message that this book presented concerning self-harm and mental health. They don’t paint Camille as a survivor or in a positive light. Instead, they have the secondary characters scorn and mock her, and show that she is helpless and needs babying during her recovery process. The self-harm journey presented to us bothers me intensely, and even though I’ve never encountered the need for a trigger warning personally, the way in which this came up in the book was just devastating and used solely for shock value, which was very disappointing.
The dark tone of the book is creepy and cool at times, but largely depressing for the remainder. Camille is moody and resentful towards her past, and even though she doesn’t seem afraid of confrontation or acceptance, she never sticks up for herself. She just accepts the terrible town people as the status quo. I could accept this if I felt I knew her motive, but she honestly just doesn’t seem like a person who would take any of that, and I never felt like I had a firm grip on her development.
I’m a sucker for a good dark tone, a rural mystery, and a family drama. The climax is easily predictable, but it’s at least plausible. I hate reading a thriller where everything just spirals into unbelievability, but Sharp Objects wraps things up cleanly. There is a second reveal that I shan’t spoil that comes incredibly quickly on the heels of the first reveal, and it kind of becomes inconsequential because of the pacing. It’s like doing a double-take and just saying, “meh.”
I recommend this book for at intrigue, its horrific mystery, and its general darkness. Although the characters and settings didn’t do it for me, Flynn has shown that she’s always been a strong plot writer, and the pace and direction that this book takes is enjoyable and commendable.