"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review #24: Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I read Gone Girl a couple of years ago and while at the time I thought it was okay, the farther I get from it, the less I like it. It was a runaway hit, as we all know, but it just didn't quite live up to the hype for me. So when I found a copy of Dark Places at the local library book shop, I figured I would give Gillian another shot. But just like Gone Girl, she lost me at the ending, and now I think that Gillian and I have to break up for good.
Spoilers ahead. Like, I'm going to talk about the ending in detail, so don't read further if you don't want to know.
For those who haven't read it, Dark Places is the story of Libby Day, the sole survivor of a family massacre in Kinnakee, Kansas. Libby was the youngest of four children, and famously testified against her brother, Ben, fingering him as the killer of her mother and two older sisters. After the murders, Libby bounced around from family member to family member, and now, 25 years later, she is broke and alone. The funds that were donated all those years ago have dried up, and Libby can't work; the killings understandably wrecked her, and there are days she can barely leave her bedroom, let alone hold down a job. She still sleeps with the lights on. Desperate for money, she agrees to meet with some crime enthusiasts for a fee. The members of The Kill Club, as they are known, think that Ben is innocent, and that Libby was coerced in to her testimony, and soon she begins to question whether her accusations all those years ago was really the truth.
Flashing back to the day of the murders, Libby recounts the events that led up to the destruction of her family. Ben, listening to "satanic rock" and dyeing his hair black, Libby's mother, so beaten down by her ex-husband and the poverty that comes with running a farm in the early 80s that she can't bear to discipline him, Libby herself, playing with her sisters, knowing that something is wrong when their aunt Diane arrives, carrying with her rumors that Ben has been accused of molesting a girl at school. By the time Diane arrives, Ben is nowhere to be found; Libby is dragged along with her mother and aunt in a frantic search to find him. By the next morning, Libby's mother and two sisters are dead.
Twenty five years later, after Libby's investigations with the help of a really weird guy from The Kill Club, we finally discover the truth. And the truth is, as they say, stranger than fiction. Ben didn't kill his mother; a serial killer nicknamed the Angel of Debt did, for a fee that was paid for by Libby's own mother. This is a woman who so loved her children that she was willing to protect her son from child molestation accusations, and yet she contracted for her own death because they couldn't make ends meet? That doesn't seem like character continuity to me. And at the very same time that the Angel of Debt is in the house killing Mrs. Day, Ben and his girlfriend Diondra come home, and Diondra stabs Ben's sister (because...I'm not sure? Diondra's just a bad person? It's never really explained), spraying blood everywhere. And then the Angel of Debt realizes that another sister witnessed his killing of Mrs. Day, so he has to kill her, too, but somehow Diondra and Ben escape, but not till after Diondra paints the walls with blood. And we're supposed to just believe all that? That's an awful lot of coincidences, and I nearly threw the book across the room at that point.
But Gillian wasn't done with her WTFery. Because, you see, Diondra was pregnant with Ben's baby while she was killing his sister and dancing in her blood. After Ben was arrested and sent to prison, Diondra skipped town and had a daughter named Crystal. And since Diondra is a total bananapants crazy person, Crystal grew up with her mom telling her the fairy tale of her imprisoned father and her murderess mother, and since Crystal is also a total bananapants crazy person, Crystal thought the whole my-mom-got-away-with-murder-and-let-my-father-rot-in-jail-for-it thing was OMG so cool, so when Libby finally tracked her niece down and asked to meet her, not knowing that Diondra and Crystal were freaking nut jobs, Crystal was so overcome with joy at meeting a new member of the family that she tried to kill Libby. And that's when I actually threw the book across the room. 
I'm all for unreliable narrators. I'm all for a few gory details, too, even if I do skim them sometimes cause I think they're too icky. And who doesn't love a good twist or two? But you have to make it believable, and that's where Flynn struggles. She paints herself in to a corner and can't figure out how to get out of it, so instead of rewriting or choosing a different path, she picks the most absurd ending she can possibly come up with, and it feels manipulative. And frankly, it takes me out of the story and ruins the book for me.
The only character in this entire book who was even slightly likable was the freaking Angel of Debt, because at least he felt a little bit of remorse over being forced to kill a little girl. When I can't even muster up some sympathy for the kid who had her entire family massacred, then we've got problems.

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