The generous and scholarly Tammy Moore, one of Verbal Magazine's reviewers and writers, has allowed us the pleasure of hosting one of her reviews. Take it away, Tammy...
Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, is a relentless, disturbingly beautiful read. Flynn’s twitchy writing style is a perfect match to the nervous energy that drives her main character, the restless, fidgeting, sizzling in her own skin, Camille.
Camille Preaker is a journalist for Chicago’s fourth-largest paper. She’s broken. This is obvious early on, although we don’t learn the details of how and why – all the many why’s – until later in the book. One child has been murdered in her home town and another has gone missing; he wants Camille to go back home and cover the story.
It’ll be good for the paper. It’ll be good for her.
He’s wrong, but he means well and so Camille goes home, back to Wind Gap.
The inhabitants of the town, the ‘fervent Wind Gapians’ spend most of the novel desperately trying to pass the buck of blame to someone from outside: a hitch-hiker, a crazy in the woods, the incomers who’ve not been in the town long. I didn’t know why they bothered. It was evident to me that someone was always going to get murdered in Wind Gap, the only question was who.
The town is a morass of dark secrets and corrosive hopelessness. Southern gentility rubs cheeks with Gothic dysfunction and, seen through Camille’s eyes, everything in town is touched with the grotesque.
For a while you wonder if she is an unreliable narrator, her own damage making her paint everything as fouled, but the people she talks to seem to agree with her opinions. Wind Gap is a twisted place and the town creates twisted people.
Camille is one of them.
She’s sympathetic only because of what she’s suffered, likeable only because everyone else she encounters is so detestable.
The most detestable of all is her own family. Her mother Adora, so voraciously needy she steals bits of other people’s lives and takes their grief for her own, and her stiff, cold stepfather Alan, Adora’s mannequin who we rarely see move and who puppets her words and her lies. Last of all is Amma, Camille’s stepsister who veers between being a sickly, needy child to a vicious, bullying Lolita.
Trapped at home in her suffocating childhood home, alternately stabbed and babied by Adora, Camille struggles to keep her precarious balance while investigating the crime. Everything she discovers strikes a little too close to home, whether she realises it or not. The missing children are like her, dark and wilful and smart. When Richard, the specialist sent down from Chicago PD, asked about occasions of violence she’d seen in town she tells him about acts of sexual violence she’d seen, had done to her.
Although the murdered children weren’t molested a certain sickly sexuality runs a thread through the book: Camille’s feverish ‘use me’ sexuality, her mother’s touchy neediness towards her daughters and even the lush, fidgety prose itself.
In the end, discovering who killed the little girl’s isn’t a surprise. The reader was there long before Camille, unblinded by her history and sentiment, but that didn’t matter. It’s Camille’s fractured, hobbling journey to that point of revelation, solving the mystery of her own broken childhood, that the reader watches.
The Preaker family fortune came from the hog-farm outside of town. It disgusts Camille, rivets Amma and is the source of employment and nutrition for everyone else in town. Pigs are fattened on hormones, strapped down in farrowing pens to nurse unending litters of piglets with bloody teats and slaughtered by furious, sickened men. Maybe that’s what poisoned the town and shaped the families in it.
This isn’t a particularly hopeful book, the closest it comes to hope is the possibility that Camille might be salvageable, but it is riveting and well-written. I would certainly recommend that anyone with a taste for southern gothic and crime pick it up.
That is…as long as you don’t have a delicate stomach. Sharp Objects lacks in obvious gore, but it has no shortage of more subtle, psychologically disturbing elements.