I recently finished Gillian Flynn's "Sharp Objects." Flynn is also the author of well-known and critically acclaimed "Gone Girl" as well as "Dark Places." I have read "Gone Girl," but have not read "Dark Places." "Sharp Objects" was recently made into a limited HBO series starring Amy Adams and Chris Messina. I am quite intrigued to see their take on this disturbing story. "Sharp Objects" was Flynn's first novel, published in 2006. I'll provide a brief summary and some thoughts while trying not to spoil anything!
"Sharp Objects" follows Camille Preaker as she returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to report on the murders of two young girls. Camille is a journalist based in the Chicago area and has few ties to her hometown or family. Returning is not something that she looks forward to. Through her time in Wind Gap, you discover the roots of toxicity in her life and how she deals with her own mental health struggles. As Camille works to uncover information from the police and citizens of Wind Gap, there are plenty of twists that arise. Flynn once again delivers well-constructed thriller. There are a couple things I enjoyed in particular about the novel.
I think Flynn does a superb job of representing small-town, Midwest culture in this novel. From the relationships in the town to the way information travels, I think it gives a fairly realistic glimpse into what could go on if two young women were murdered in a small town. This realism heightened the eeriness of the novel.
Though I was certainly disturbed by this story, it didn't exactly keep me up at night. Generally, I did want to find out what was going to happen next. The story is absolutely horrific, but what I focused on were the themes of how familial relationships and friendships shape who we are, and how vulnerability and shame play such integral roles in our actions. In this novel, wanting to belong was a motivation that drove several characters in their actions. I don't think it's any big revelation that human beings have a basic need to belong.
One of my favorite things about "Sharp Objects" was how quickly the reader connects with Camille while still learning about her character deeply as the novel progresses. I felt as though I understood Camille pretty well early on, including her motivations for returning to her hometown and connected with her because of the sheer horror at what she was returning for. Flynn adds Camille's own struggles and lets the reader empathize with her on some level because she has so many layers as a character.
I appreciated that Flynn integrates mental health and self-harm as a central topic of the novel. One of the themes that struck me in Flynn's novel was self-worth, especially for women. As a reader, you pick up on all the ways that Camille's upbringing affects her and how she views herself. It completely affects the way that she interacts with those around her, and there's a level of shame she has I think that prevents her from creating some real connection. I think this certainly reflects realistic situations and struggles that people deal with every day, and I haven't read many fictional novels that quite depict struggling in the particular way that Camille does. The end of the novel left me concerned about Camille and wanting more of a concrete resolution. Basically, by the end, I felt sort of hopeless and disturbed.
Props to HBO as well for producing the series, which I have yet to watch, for providing resources and support on the show's HBO site for those struggling with mental health. There is a unique opportunity to provide those resources in connection with a creative work of art, and I'm glad that HBO recognizes the importance of mental health and addiction.