Book Review: “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

Dark Places is the only work of Gillian Flynn’s I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing so far, but after finishing it in 2 days I can guarantee that I’ll be getting my hands on Gone Girl and Sharp Objects as soon as I can.

Because I did cheat a little and watch the movie version of Gone Girl, I feel like I’m allowed to make the dramatic statement that if Gillian Flynn continues writing books of a psychological thriller persuasion, then she could potentially be on par with Stephen King. Even as I write that I can feel my conviction shrinking because Stephen King is so terrifyingly talented at what he does, but it’s a loose comparison and for now, it stands. (Please prove me write, Gillian!)

Around the time I read Dark Places, which was only about a week or two ago, I had just finished Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City chronicling the terrors of the serial killer H.H. Holmes. I’d also been heavily binging one of my favorite true crime podcasts, My Favorite Murder. Needless to say, my recent obsession with all things murder-related left me a bit paranoid that I would be a #1 suspect if any major crime was committed near me, but so far I think I’m in the clear.

I went into this book without even reading the synopsis on the back of the book. From the very first sentence, Flynn pulled me in with her gritty, visceral prose and shocking plot line of a little girl whose entire family had been murdered, aside from her older brother who was currently serving a life-sentence as his family’s killer.

“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders.”

In addition to her vivid, intense language, I also love that Flynn gives her readers an unlikable protagonist. Libby Day is understandably pretty f*cked up from the grisly events of her childhood, but she also uses these events to exploit the hell out of her suffering. For 25 years, she’s been living off of a donation fund created at the time of the murders that’s now dwindled to $982.12. She even agreed to put her name on a book called Brand New Day! Don’t Just Survive Childhood Trauma – Surpass It! which was ghost written for her and ended up making next to nothing in sales anyway.

As unlikable as she is, Flynn manages to get the reader on Libby’s side anyway which is clearly a testament to Flynn’s skill as a writer. Libby Day is the worst, but she’s so unapologetically self-aware that you can begin to look past how self-pitying she is. She’s unwilling to truly work through what happened to her, and she knows that. As a reader, you recognize that her laziness and entitlement stem from a place of fear; an unwillingness to confront the dark places in her past where her horrific memories hide.

In an effort to not accidentally reveal anything essential to the plot, I’ll take the slackers way out and relay the synopsis provided on the back of the book:

“Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas. She survived – and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club – a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes – locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history. She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club – for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started – on the run from a killer.”

The form of the book adds ereven more to the frantic, fast paced tone; Flynn switches perspectives and alternates between present day and the days leading up to the murder. After building the tension and allowing the reader to start forming their own conclusions, Flynn delivers the day of the murder using present tense, putting the reader in the moment of terror alongside Libby and her brother.

Although I haven’t seen the film adaptation, I’m skeptical of the casting directors choice of Charlize Theron as Libby Day. I just can’t see Theron, who usually plays badass action packed roles, as Libby Day, the victim-playing immature woman who seems like she’s only seeking the truth to avoid participating in real life. BUT, a friend who’s seen it says it was really good, so I should probably hold my unfounded opinions until I’ve actually seen it for myself.

Image result for charlize theron as libby
Charlize Theron as Libby Day in Dark Places (2015)

Either way, the book will ALWAYS be better than the movie, and this book in particular is my new go-to recommendation for people looking for a fast paced, exhilarating reading experience.

Gillian Flynn is also the author of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, both of which I plan to add to my TBR pile ASAP.

As always, thanks for reading!


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