Book Review: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn
This is a gross book. Not saying it is bad by any means, but it’s just plain icky and cringe-inducing, filled with disturbing, dirty, and awfully sick people. Oh, and Gillian Flynn should probably not sit on the tourist board for Missouri anytime soon, as this is the second novel I’ve read of hers featuring a Missouri locale and she doesn’t paint it in any flattering light. Also, fair warning: If you involuntarily shudder and throw up a little bit in your mouth any time someone mentions “teeth pulling”, do not read this book.
However, all of my above initial thoughts aside, I give admirable praise to Flynn for having the guts to create such unlikeable main characters and for refusing to wrap her stories up in a tidy bow. I do not say this sarcastically, either. She excels at writing flawed people, and it’s truly refreshing to read books by a female author writing about the anti-heroes. One of the reasons I enjoyed “Gone Girl” so much was not that it was the best book I’d ever read, but that Flynn was willing to flip aside the mystery genre “rule book” and go for broke. I hated Nick as much as I hated Amy and I wasn’t too fond of his sister or her parents, either. Same goes for “Sharp Objects”- Camille Preaker is only one step above the rest of her wretched family, but she’s just as disturbed as nearly everyone else in her broken and Stepford Wife-esque home-town. She’s dismally depressed, a heavy drinker, a poor judgement of character, and has a dark and jagged (wink wink) past. So what’s to love? She and almost she alone feels genuine sorrow for the murdered girls and is doing her darnedest to uncover the truth. I do end up garnering some sympathy for her, as I did with Nick in “Gone Girl”, albeit grudgingly.
But again, I must stress that “Sharp Objects” is by no means awful, even though it’s filled with awful folks doing terribly awful things. Flynn veers into traditional mystery genre formula territory near the end of the book, and it got painfully slow and repetitive somewhere near the 3/4 of the way gone mark. Although I (strangely) found it interesting to read about such flawed and damaged main characters, the author does fall into the trap of having Camille appear as too much of an outsider. She’s nearly always the smartest gal in the room and there is much commentary on how the other Wind Gap, MO town folk- most of whom having never left after high school- are immature, self-centered, uncultured, and stuck in the past. It gets to be insulting after a time. While Camille is no way near perfect (as the reader quickly discovers) she’s also not a fair judge to anyone else, and I quickly tired of having to listen (I read this via audio book) through endless interviews with her former school mates that ultimately resulted in peevish and childish trips down memory lane. Having never kept up, really, with anyone from high school, I couldn’t identify with this reminiscing and the absurd assumption that Camille could possibly be the only one who literally and figuratively “moved on” from high school drama.
As for the “whodunnit” aspect of the book, I guessed early on who the true culprit was. This isn’t necessarily a disappointing thing; as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of awful side stories to go around and Flynn does make good use of diversionary tactics. The unfolding of the mystery is very slow going at first but after a while the speed picks up and I was hooked. I don’t think I have ever wanted to sit in traffic so much in my life, just to get one more smidge of story. And, one of the perks of listening in my car versus reading the actual book, was that I could not skip ahead or peek to the end! A huge (and sometimes incredibly frustrating) feat for me! I had to actually work out the crime myself and couldn’t take a tiny quick look at the end of the book to see if I was right!
The epilogue attempts to wrap up the story, but Flynn keeps things from steering into a fairy tale ending. I actually loved the ending a lot. Camille finally reaches a starting point where peace can potentially be achieved and there are just desserts for the killer. Nothing ever gets resolved, really. But I think Flynn is a smart writer- when does anything in real life ever get a “completed” stamp? The journey never truly ends for these characters, which ultimately makes her books so engrossing and thought-provoking, even when the stories and characters are not always shocking or pleasant.