Thursday, January 19, 2017

Flynn Backward and Forward

I just finished reading two novels back to back by Gillian Flynn, second novel first and first novel second. These, like her third novel, Gone Girl, which I have not read, though I did see the film, are mystery novels done in admirable literary style, and therefore a step above and outside the genre from which they sprout.

Honestly, I have always been mystified by mysteries, whether in novel form or film, usually needing to ask my wife what happened when the story concludes, but in the case of these two novels, I followed along just fine, even through to the unexpected ending in each. Now, whether someone like my wife could have had the whole thing figured out before the end, I can’t say – although I will say that I doubt it.

Gillian’s second novel, Dark Places, shows a very fine hand indeed in the creation of story and character and meaning. Who killed the Day family, save for one daughter? Was it the older brother? Was it the estranged, low-life ex-husband? Or was it someone else altogether?

Libby Day, the surviving daughter, who for 25 years has been living on the dwindling proceeds from the fame resulting after her personal tragedy, must finally find a way to exist without the sympathy funds, and must also find, in her own person, the means of dealing with the past, even understanding the past – what really happened. Although brother Ben has been imprisoned for the murders, questions persist, and a sort of lurid fan club of followers champion the case for his release. They provide Libby with what she needs in the short term – money – in exchange for the entry that only she can provide into the minds of people directly involved – father, brother, friends, girlfriends – and, in the longer term, the only thing that can really release her from her tragedy and allow her to go forward. Resolution.

Only 7 at the time of the murders, it turns out that there were very many things indeed that Libby did not know, just as there are very many things, even as adults, that we do not know or even suspect about other people, even those close to us. As she peers into those dark places, the story takes some very dark turns, winding into a twisted world of drugs, satanic worship, ritual killings, sexual perplexity, adolescent angst, adult desperation. Life is much more complicated than she imagined – just as complicated as an unsolved murder.

Dark Places is a richly done, complex novel accomplished with style and sureness, securing a place for Flynn, in my opinion, among the best practitioners.

What struck me most of all about Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, was the imprint of her voice, flinging one sharp, sometimes jarring, awakening phrase after another upon the pages like speckles of bright paint, causing the mind to gasp, Oh! again and again. Damn, I wish I’d said that! I had not seen a voice as authentic as hers in a good long while. It almost made me want to try my own hand again. These are words that leap off the page and bump about in the brain, bright and exact.

Again, Sharp Objects is a mystery, and, as one might expect, it is a bit less accomplished on a literary level than Dark Places. One glimpses the sharp editorial blade here and there, the safe play. Nonetheless, Flynn announces her presence in this first outing as a writer to eagerly follow. Again, we find ourselves immersed in the unexpected, the unknown, a stream much swifter and deeper than it had appeared to be. Secret currents tug, the long grasses of perverse lies twine unseen about ones ankles beneath the surface. It is a theme which seems a favorite for Flynn. All the things we did not know – the very things that explain us.

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