Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

May 2, 2013

Plot summary (from the publisher): Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified 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 macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby 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 to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into 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.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Judging from many other reviews, I’m in the minority here, but I still have to say it: I liked Libby. She was by far the best of the three main narrators (her mother Patty and brother Ben being the other two), and the scenes told from her POV were the most interesting. No, she wasn’t perfect and she did irritate me at times, but that’s what made her seem more realistic to me.
  • It was refreshing to see Libby acknowledge her mercenary intentions without any qualms whatsoever. She needed money, so she sold what she had: connections and memorabilia to the fateful night when her family was killed. Sure, the motivation was grim and macabre. Then again, this wasn’t called “Shiny, Happy Places”, was it?
  • I liked that some people were simply unwilling to talk to Libby. I hate it when non-official “investigators” in books and TV shows start interviewing witnesses in a murder case and get nothing less than full cooperation. It makes no sense. I would NOT talk to anyone that didn’t have a badge. Would you? So it was good to see people like Trey and Diondra be less than cooperative (even though Diondra had good reason for that).
  • The descriptions of the Day family’s poverty was stark and depressing. And Flynn hammered this point home enough times that when it was revealed that Patty orchestrated her own “murder” (committed by the so-called “Angel of Death”) so her kids would get the insurance money and be able to keep the farm, the scenario was almost believable. Almost.

Disliked:

  • The shifting points-of-view were annoying as hell. The idea of telling the story from the past and present simultaneously so that the events eventually converge sounds good in theory, but the execution was tedious. I didn’t like it at all, particularly Ben’s narrative. It was boring and took away from the rest of the novel.
  • Speaking of Ben, I did not understand his relationship with Diondra at all. What did she see in him? Why would she and Trey even want Ben around? He was a poor, weird, foul-smelling janitor who brought absolutely nothing to their little group. I figured those two were setting Ben up to be a patsy of some sort, but that never happened. So again, WHY were Diondra and Ben even a couple? And then later, when he became an adult, why was Ben still in love with/protecting Diondra after the shitty way she treated him? For the sake of the baby he never knew? I doubt it. None of that made sense.
  • I wish Runner had been the killer, just because he was the single most annoying character in a book chock-full of annoying characters. Ugh. I could not stand him at all — and not in that good, love-to-hate kind of way, either.
  • Crystal’s (Diondra/Ben’s daughter) attack on Libby came out of the blue and didn’t sit well with me. The author tried to justify it by saying Crystal and Diondra were “best friends” and that Crystal knew all about Diondra murdering one of Ben’s sisters because the girl knew she was pregnant, but that wasn’t enough. Crystal was, what, 24-25 years old when Libby tracked them down? That seemed too old for the “don’t take my mommy away” defense.
  • The Angel of Death’s chapter about what went down that fateful night was odd, abrupt, and out of place. The guy went there to kill Patty, but was discovered in the act by one of the other daughters and had to kill her too? The girl was about 11 years old or something, right? Couldn’t he have just run away? What were the chances of the kid identifying him? She would have been far too traumatized to remember much, wouldn’t she? And why didn’t he take the simple precaution of wearing a mask or otherwise disguising himself for the mission? Yes, Patty knew he was coming so he didn’t have to hide from her. But he was going to a house occupied by FOUR OTHER PEOPLE. So much for being a “pro”.

Rating:

Gillian Flynn is a talented writer, but I’m getting the feeling that her plots hinge on the thinnest of threads. Between Dark Places and Gone Girl, I find that I have the hardest time accepting her characters’ motivations and the miraculous coincidences that occur at precisely the right moments. Dark Places seems like it could have gone in a number of other ways that would have made it more interesting to me. As it stands, I didn’t like the nonlinear retelling, the multiple points-of-view, or the unanswered questions about Ben and Diondra. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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