Tom’s Bookshelf: The Post Gone Girl Slump

Finished reading Gone Girl and wanting more? Tired of waiting for best-selling author Gillian Flynn’s next book? It’s time to turn to her other written works. And the good news? They’re all worth a look.

How’s my review system work? I give stars out of five based on the averaging of two letter grades, Critic and Reader. My Critic Score is based on writing quality, contribution to culture, ethics, consistency, plot development, characters, style, originality, and overall how well the book accomplishes its creative and intellectual goals, among other factors. On the other hand, my Reader Score is a personal reflection on how much I enjoyed the work, regardless of what makes a book “good” or “bad;” it takes into account both entertainment value and my own tastes and life experiences. B is the median of my letter grades, with As for outstanding work and Cs for generally disappointing work. D and F grades are out of the ordinary and given when my disapproval is strong.

Sharp Objects

Her second most addictive thrill-ride

4 out of 5 Stars

My Critic Score: B

My Reader Score: A-

Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects (Gone Girl was her third), was released in 2006 to warm reviews and was developed over a year ago into an award-winning limited series on HBO starring Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson. The story follows Camille Preaker’s return to hometown Wind Gap, Missouri on the investigative trail of the brutal murders of two girls. Secrets from her distant mother, Adora, and unresolved childhood trauma unspool alongside information on the killer’s identity, wearing Preaker’s mental stability thin. And of course, the death toll is rising.

Overall this book is very fun (in a sick, messed up way). It’s the perfect vacation read: light yet smart, sucks you in, and quick to digest. The characters are solidly developed, and the tone successfully achieves dread and tension.

I must say there is no significant literary merit here, but it’s not really trying to have that. The writing style can be slightly weak at times; you can tell it’s a debut. I wanted more description and world building. Also, the prose can ramble, and short scenes (mostly interviews and conversations) can feel lightweight when taken one at a time, so you might lose your patience if you’re not turning those pages.

In general, Sharp Objects is a very gripping novel with a satisfying plot twist to leave you shaking.

Dark Places

Slower-paced, but grittier and more mature

3/5 Stars

Critic Score: B+

Reader Score: B-

Next up is Flynn’s sophomore effort, Dark Places, put out in 2009 to best-seller status and recipient of a few genre awards. A poorly reviewed film starring Charlize Theron came out in 2015. The story follows Libby Day, who as a child survived the satanic massacre of her family in rural Kansas. Now, she’s been offered money to uncover new information, which will force her to confront the publicity that raised her and the trauma that’s beaten her down for decades.

Thematically, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, but certainly nothing thoughtless either. Flynn illustrates the broken justice system, the farming crisis of the 1980s, and societal thirst for punishment with poise. The dysfunctional family elements end up being quite tragic and truly melancholy in a touching but also sort of numbing way.

The plot starts off well but meanders toward the middle with a minuscule climax that fizzles into a disappointing arc. The switching perspectives often kills momentum instead of adding to the suspense, and I felt this technique was rarely used cleverly. The twists are mostly satisfactory, though, and the central mystery is relatively complex and plausible.

The book’s style is competent, occasionally witty or pretty, but never enough to positively impact the prose as a whole. Flynn’s at her best with eccentric first-person, I think (ie. Amy Dunne).

Dark Places brings great female villains as always and an even better female protagonist than Sharp Object’s Camille. No one is completely likeable, which I particularly enjoyed, and no one felt added into the story without purpose.

Finally, I’ll touch on the setting, which is drab, even if that’s the point. It’s great for a spooky tone, but this book doesn’t really work best there, as if functions more in the atmosphere of crime. The locale could have been put to better effect and added to a sense of horror that was missing and could have benefited the slower parts.

In general, this novel shows narrative maturity with a little less wow-factor in story.

“The Grownup”

A suitable selection for dessert

3 out of 5 Stars

Critic Score: B-

Reader Score: C+

Originally published as a short story in George R. R. Martin’s 2014 anthology Rogues as “What Do You Do?”, this novella edition came out a year later and snatched up the Edgar Award for Best Short Story. In it, we follow a sex worker turned babysitter on an unsurprisingly freaky trail of deceit and violence.

While it isn’t scary, or even all that disturbing, the piece’s characters are sharply original and the plot is super unpredictable. A brief and possibly unfulfilling tale, The Grownup works for an hour or two on the beach so you can have a single-sitting bit of rest with a talented author who’s got a knack for biting prose and psychological thrills. The ending is predictably frustrating for readers, but brave on the author’s part because it sacrifices reader satisfaction for an untraditionally eerie close that will force the story to linger in the uncomfortable corner of your brain.

Give this a try if you liked Flynn’s other works, but save it for last.

 

And there you have it—a tour de Flynn. Flip your way through all her books to prep yourself for the next release! We are all waiting (not-so) patiently.

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