A Thousand Flappers and Hobbledehoys

My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.

Sharp Objects: Review

The following post was taken from my Goodreads review:

Like Garden State if Garden State was a psychological thriller. Gillian Flynn sits at the center of a triangle of crime fiction greats: Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, and Alfred Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, she’s deeply interested in the way that normal people can do hideous things beneath a mask of respectability. Like Chandler, she likes hard-drinking heroes whose low opinion of the world is, to their own horror and despite their own efforts, resoundingly confirmed. Like Highsmith, she delivers it all with a style that applies the rhythms of lightweight literary fiction to self-consciously morbid subject matter, describing child murders and abusive monsters with the breezy rhythms of a magazine profile.

What sets Flynn apart from these influences (as well as contemporary occupants of the subject matter like her frequent collaborator David Fincher) is her ability to root them in experiences familiar to modern readers. Just as Gone Girl captured the fake-it-till-you-make-it strain of a marriage that isn’t working out the way the couple hoped, Sharp Objects evokes the feelings associated with returning to a hometown you’re all too happy to have left.

Even as someone on good terms with his hometown, I recognized the situation Flynn was dramatizing, and understood Camille Preaker’s instinctive revulsion for her town, which goes beyond the provincial politics or gossipy residents. We all knew or know someone like Camille, who fled to the city as soon as she could, who spits the name of her hometown out like it’s poison, who seems to get obliquely angry for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, who drinks a little too much and makes offhand references to some past trauma that she never fully tells you about. Everyone has scars from our upbringing; they just happen to be more literal in her case.

What’s interesting about Sharp Objects is how much Flynn is willing to sideline the central murder mystery for the more mundane horrors: the performative cruelty of teenage girls, the operatic catharsis of a “girls night out” for a group of suburban mothers, the way that, when you go back home, you can feel yourself turning back into your high-school self. Really, while Flynn is good enough at the basics of structuring a murder mystery, it’s the least-compelling part of the book, and the eventual resolution is a bit too clunky to work, and it possibly worked better on audio than it would have on the page, as there’s no way to fake an ending when you’re still holding a fair chunk of book in your right hand.

But if Flynn isn’t able to wring all the horror you’d expect out of a serial killer who murders little girls and pulls out their teeth, she’s more than able to make up for it in describing the psychic burden of more pedestrian situations. I’ve never read a dress-fitting scene that creeped me out so much.

Interested in reading this? I’m an Amazon Affiliate, meaning that I link products from Amazon, and if anyone clicks those links to buy the product, they pay me a commission. If you’re interested in purchasing Sharp Objects, just follow the link below:

Sharp Objects: A Novel

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This entry was posted on 18 September 2019 by in Elegant Extracts.
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