Dark Places-Gillian Flynn

In Book Reviews, fiction, mystery on August 9, 2010 at 12:30 am

Living Dead

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn is the story of a young woman, Libby Day, a survivor of a murder spree that killed her mother and two sisters when she was seven years old.  Her brother is serving a life sentence for the murder, and Libby is an psychological mess.  She is contacted by a group called The Kill Club, which is interested in meeting her because its members believe her brother, Ben, is innocent of the murders.  Libby meets them, and even though she believes her brother is guilty, she agrees to speak to people involved in the case because she needs the money the club will pay her.  The story of Dark Places is what she finds out by dredging up the past 25 years later.

The reader learns about a family that suffered through hard times and a 15 year old boy who was lost, but not only because he listened to music that frightened his mother or died his hair black or was a loner at school.  Ben Day was lost because his whole life had been one of lack:  he lacked a father figure;  he lacked nice things;  he lacked the ability to tell his girlfriend no because he so desperately didn’t want to be alone.  The story is as much about Ben as it is about Libby.  Both have spent time in the dark places in their minds.

The story is a well crafted one.  It includes many twists and turns, and the ending is a surprise, like an O. Henry story.  Flynn moves back and forth from the past to the present devoting chapters to Libby’s viewpoint of the present and the past in those days right before the murders, Ben’s viewpoint of the present and the days leading up to the murders and then the moments of the murders, and her mother Patty’s viewpoint of the days before the murders and that fateful night.

Flynn is best when she’s writing as Libby in the present.  Her characterization of her is superior to all the other characters; Libby’s voice is the most convincing of all the viewpoints.  Flynn is successful in showing the pain Libby still feels, 25 years after the loss of her mother and two sisters.  Libby is a shell of a person:  she has no job, no friends, no life.  She’s as much a dead person as they are after the murders. She believes her brother is guilty, not because she knows it to be fact, but because she’s never been able to think about it after she testified against him. She is cynical.  It’s all she has.  Flynn’s writing brings the sadness and hollowness of Libby right off the pages.

Ben’s parts of the book show a weak person.  He is a lacking character, and even though he has admirers who see him as a man punished unfairly, the reader quickly understands that even if he’s innocent of the murders, as his admirers and the Kill Club believe, his weaknesses then and now have caused his imprisonment. Flynn does a good job showing the smallness of this man, who has strangely had it easier than Libby because even though he’s in jail, he knows the truth.

Flynn also is successful in making the villains of the story despicable.  She crafts their characters into finely tuned creatures easy to hate.  Ben’s girlfriend and the father of the Day family are portrayed as vile, deserving of no pity from Libby.  That she is unable to hate them by the end of the story gives the glimmer of hope that she has begun to heal the wounds that have made her life a mess.

Dark Places is quite dark at times, but the book is worth the time to read it.  The characterizations are well written, and the plot is interesting enough to keep the reader’s attention to the end. By the end of the story, Libby and her brother are less broken, less hollow.  But each has lost 25 years of life because of one fateful night all those years ago.


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