Saturday, September 28, 2013

Truth in Advertising? Dark Places

I know the prevailing rule of thumb is that when you start a book, you must read one hundred pages minus your ages before giving up on it.  I haven't figured out how to apply that principle to audiobooks.  I always feel a certain constraint because the selection is more limited.  I could read print books without never buying another (although the likelihood of that happening is slim to none) but I have worked my way through the collections of three local libraries.  I find it harder and harder to find something to listening to on my 50-60 minute daily commute.

I had read Gillian Flynn's bestseller Gone Girl, which ended up dark enough, so when I started her prior novel Dark Places, I almost stopped listening at the first CD, not because the book wasn't engaging but the story was so dark and the protagonist was so damaged by events in her childhood, I wasn't sure I could stick with it.  I did.      

In this story, Libby Day, the protagonist has survived the murder of her mother and two sisters, a crime for which her brother Ben has been in prison for twenty-four years.  Libby testified against him at sever years old, but as the novel opens, she has basically existed on the money donated to her by well-meaning people after the tragedy.  The money, she learns, is running out, and she has no job and no prospects of income.  Then she gets a call from a young man who is a member of the "Kill Club," a large organization of people obsessed with unsolved murders.  He offers her money to come to the convention and appear at the Day Group's booth.  While the experience is maddening, she realizes she can profit from the group's desire to solve the mystery. (Ironically, until they suggest her brother's innocence, she's never considered he might not have killed the rest of their family.)  What follows is essential the solving of a mystery.  

Flynn alternates between chapters focusing on Libby, her mother, and her brother Ben.  The narrative alternates between the day or two before the murder and the present day.  Ben, a fifteen year old at the time of the murders was a high school misfit, who ends up with a senior girlfriend, new in town, with parents more absent than present.  Ben gets involved with her and her cousin (at least that's their story) in drugs, drinking, and eventually satanic rituals.

While Libby remains a sympathetic character throughout the novel, she doesn't inspire warmth. She seems so damaged by her experiences that she pushes everyone away.  If the other characters had an ounce of redeeming value, she might suffer more by comparison, but Ben's girlfriend Deandra comes across as so mean and manipulative that Libby can only shine by contrast.

My overall feeling as I finished the novel was that some messes can't ever be completely made right.  While Flynn doesn't try to tie a neat bow around the ending, she does leave the reader hopeful. She also left me eager to read something hysterically funny to offset the dark places she took me.


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