Next up on the reading list is Sharp Objects. I started this one for two reasons: I wanted to read the book before watching the much-acclaimed HBO miniseries, and I also joined an online book club that my friend Sarah started which chose this book first.
In short: This book is one intense ride! It deals a lot with psychological trauma and mental illnesses. I knew it would be a dark, psychological thriller, but large chunks of the novel can be harrowing at times. The main character in the story, Camille Preaker, is a journalist from Wind Gap, Missouri, who lives in Chicago and works for a low-circulation newspaper in the city. Her boss, Curry, assigns her to cover a story in her hometown regarding the murder of a young girl and a second girl who has gone missing.
Curry is well-intentioned here. He supported Camille through a recent stay in a psychiatric hospital where she went through intense therapy, and he thinks some time in her hometown will help her heal further, even as she covers an unpleasant story. It's clear from the get-go that Camille doesn't want to spend this time back in the place where she grew up, and we get a great insight into what her relationship with her mother must be like when Curry asks if Camille has talked to her mother recently:
"Not since Christmas: a chilly, polite call after administering three bourbons. I’d worried my mother could smell it through the phone lines."
Camille ultimately heads to Wind Gap and begins covering the murders. The intensity of the story begins to wind up when the reader learns that Camille's body is covered with self-administered scars as she used to cut words into her skin after imagining those words appearing on herself. She shows up at her mother's house -- her mother, Adora, is the extremely wealthy owner of a pig slaughterhouse that provides pork to most of the region. She lives in a huge house with her boring husband, Alan, and their 13-year-old daughter Amma, who has no relationship with Camille to speak of.
As Camille investigates the story, she meets a detective assigned to the case from Kansas City. His name is Richard, and he and Camille bond as the sole out-of-towners in an extremely small town where gossip travels fast. Women like Adora seem to do little else other than talk gossip all day long at times. Camille and Richard wind up developing a relationship, and as it develops the reader is given insight into years of terrible sexual violence that Camille has experienced. Ultimately, all of Camille's trauma was built up as a child -- from the neglect and disapproval of mother who preferred her now-deceased younger sister, Marian, to the self-harm cutting and plenty of booze, drugs and sex beginning at a very young age.
Camille ebbs and flows with her half-sister, Amma, and eventually the two click in a weird night that involves a good amount of drinking and drug-taking. Camille works through loads of issues and discovers that her mother used to poison her, is currently poisoning Amma, and poisoned her younger daughter, Marian, to an extent that led to Marian's death at age 10.
"I always feel sad for the girl that I was, because it never occurred to me that my mother might comfort me. She has never told me she loved me, and I never assumed she did. She tended to me. She administrated me. Oh, yes, and one time she bought me lotion with vitamin E."
Adora is arrested for the murders of Marian, as well as the two girls who were killed more recently, and Amma is sent to Chicago to live with Camille. While it seems at first like Amma is beginning to adjust to the move, one of her classmates that was spending a lot of time with Amma and Camille is found dead not long after. It's discovered that while Adora was responsible for Marian's death, Amma was responsible for the deaths of the two girls in Wind Gap and her classmate in Chicago, as she murdered them out of jealousy -- her mother was close to the two Wind Gap girls, and Camille was friendly with Amma's classmate. Camille begins to cut herself again, and is taken in by Curry and his wife at the end of the story. She is learning to be cared for as a daughter for the first time.
That's a very brief overview of a very well-laid plot. Revelations about Camille's frightening past and Amma's currently troubled present are presented in jaw-dropping fashion, at times. Certain scenes are described so explicitly as to seem violent by way of extreme intimacy. Camille's alcoholic tendencies hang like a cloud over the issues she's working through, and her relationship with Richard never feels fully healthy -- in fact, there's always a feeling of poison lurking in the story at all times. Something always feels a bit off, something always feels like a cancer waiting to blossom; you're waiting for the next bad thing to happen or to get revealed, but not in a fashion that seems boring or repetitive.
While Flynn's writing isn't aces at all times, there are definite highlights in her prose. My main nitpicky thoughts concern the dialogue, which seems a bit amateur or straightforward at points, despite weighty subject matters. This is all forgivable enough as Flynn's first novel pays off in other big ways. The tone is consistent and the story misleads you until the very end. It becomes ... not obvious, but largely suspicious, that the murderer will be Adora early on. The late twist is surprisingly effective.
Camille's character really stuck with me after finishing the book, too. Unflinchingly scarred and flawed, Camille is still headstrong enough to suffer through her investigative journalism and discover secrets about her own past. She's a strong but fucked-up character, one who is easy to have mixed feelings about, but a character for me that was ultimately very easy to respect for all she had been through.
Next up, I’ll continue my revisiting of the Harry Potter series with The Order of the Phoenix. I’m also looking forward to watching HBO’s Sharp Objects miniseries soon, and I’ll be sure to write about that and how I view it in comparison to the book should I feel so inclined.
Sharp Objects is available as an IRL book and an e-book on Amazon. It's also available on Audible; if you click this link, you can get a free trial of Audible that includes two free audiobooks. Even if you cancel your trial, you'll get to keep these two books. Also: clicking on any of the Amazon links in this post, and purchasing something from them, provides a small percentage kickback to the author of the blog you just read.