Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

August 11, 2013

sharp objects Plot summary (from the publisher): 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.

Warning: Major spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I thought it was interesting that Camille wasn’t “just” a cutter. She was driven by a compulsion to carve entire words into her body. The image was at once horrifying and fascinating, and certainly not something I’d ever seen in a main character before.
  • As I’ve said about the other two Flynn novels I’ve read, girl can write! I really enjoy her style, even if the bigger picture makes me want to roll my eyes.
  • This was not a pleasant story in any way, shape, or form, and I applaud the author for sticking to that route. She didn’t give Camille a triumphant, happy, or even very optimistic ending — though she probably was pressured to by some suit at the publishing house.

Disliked:

  • There was just way too much dysfunction in this book. I mean, alcoholism, pill-popping, teenage drug abuse, bullying, Munchausen by proxy, cutting, promiscuity…. It got to be overwhelming and far too draining after a while. Maybe it would have been better for Flynn to insert only a couple of these big issues instead of cramming them all in.
  • Another problem with the dysfunction overload is that it gives the author an excuse not to flesh out the characters. Rather than give them compelling background stories, Flynn just hangs these labels on them, shows them performing a few quirky actions, and considers them “developed”. Uh uh; doesn’t work like that.
  • Although I admittedly did not see the twist — that Amma (the sister) — was the killer, not Adora (the mother), I thought it was kind of cheap. The motivation (that Amma wanted Adora’s attention all to herself and got jealous when Adora started tutoring the other girls) was extremely flimsy, and I didn’t buy that Amma’s friends would be in on it. Even if Amma was the most popular girl in school, there’s no way those others would blindly follow her lead. If anything, they would seize on that opportunity to get Amma out of the way for good by turning her in.
  • I really could have done without reading the details of what goes on in a pig slaughterhouse. That was just nasty and almost makes me want to be a vegetarian.
  • I didn’t care for Richard, the Kansas City detective. He was too smug, demanding, and annoying for my taste.
  • The actual murder investigation wasn’t highlighted as much as I thought it would be. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as Camille wasn’t a cop or anything, but still. I was expecting at least some semblance of an investigation beyond Camille’s half-assed questioning attempts.

Rating:

I’ve worked through Gillian Flynn’s three novels backwards, and have to say that she has definitely gotten better with time. Gone Girl is her best, but Sharp Objects shows obvious signs of being a debut novel. There was way too much going on, the secondary characters weren’t developed very well, and the plot kind of meandered along at an unhurried pace with zero tension driving the action. Still, I couldn’t help but keep turning the pages, which must count for something. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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