Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Shortly after I started reading Les Miserables, I realized Gillian Flynn's Dark Places was available for me from the library -- and I only had a few more hours to check it out before I lost my opportunity.  Since I'd been waiting on the hold list for weeks, I decided to set Les Miz aside for a couple of days to read this.  (I only get the ebook for two weeks, and I am not at all confident that I can finish Les Miz with enough time to read Dark Places before the two weeks expire.  If it took me three weeks to read Kushiel's Dart, chances are that Les Miz may take me even longer.)

Part of the reason I was so eager to read this book next was because of how much I loved the first book of Flynn's that I read, Gone Girl.  I actually read that book months ago, but when I got this one from the library, I realized I hadn't ever blogged about Gone Girl.

I am glad I decided to take a break from Les Miserables to read Dark Places, because I was right -- it didn't take me very long to read it.  Two days, actually -- I couldn't stop reading it yesterday, and read the last half of the book when I was supposed to be getting some stuff done at home.  Oops!

This one was about a woman whose family was massacred when she was seven -- Libby survived by climbing out the window and running away to hide in the snow.  She testified that the killer was her older brother, Ben, and he has been in prison ever since.  Now, however, she is running out of money -- never having worked, she has survived on all the donations that had been invested for her when she was a kid -- and hooks up with a fan group that is willing to pay her for various things -- attending their meetings, selling them family memorabilia, and looking into the possibility that her brother didn't commit the murders after all.  Her present-day investigation alternates with the story of what happened the day of the murders, following both her mother's and her brother's movements that day.

Like Gone Girl, Dark Places was well crafted with alternating viewpoints and time periods, and incredibly compelling.  Every other chapter was narrated by Libby, with the others alternating between her mother and her brother (in third person as opposed to first person, which I thought was brilliant -- it made sure that it stayed Libby's story and not theirs).  Her characters are so well written that they feel real -- with both this book and Gone Girl, I'd take a break from reading and want to tell someone about the characters like I actually knew them.  Interestingly, though, they are not terribly likeable characters, even though you sympathize with them -- Libby didn't really have any redeeming qualities, except that you understood why she was the way she was (even though she hadn't been particularly likeable as a child, either, and that was before the murders).

One of the things I most admire about Flynn's books is her pacing.  She is a master at divulging some important piece of information, and then promptly switching to another point of view where you learn the same thing, usually in more detail, through other eyes.  This means that the reader is never omnipresent, knowing something that the character in the flashback doesn't actually know yet.

She is also a master at leaking major information in little ways.  I remember a part in Gone Girl where there was a vague mention of a character's disposable cell phone, as opposed to his usual one, but it was written as though you should already know what he was talking about -- after all, he knew what he was talking about.  I actually backtracked through the book, trying in vain to find an explanation of that phone, before continuing on -- and after several more mysterious mentions, you finally find out what is going on.

The same sorts of things happen in Dark Places.  There are times when very important connections are made, but if you aren't paying attention, you miss them.  Several times I read a paragraph or two, only to feel like there was something important in there I was missing -- and upon rereading the passage once or twice, figured out what it was before moving on.

Flynn's books are like Easter egg hunts, or maybe treasure hunts -- the kind where each clue, if you follow it correctly, leads you to the next one.  If you are paying attention, there are tons of clues throughout her books, but you really have to be paying attention.  Luckily, it's not hard to do -- her characters are so exquisitely drawn, the stories so complex, that you have to slow down, like eating a treat slowly to make sure you really taste it.

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