Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Author’s Journal | Pen Date 1.13.22 | TW: Harsh Language, Sexual Violence, Death, Drug Use, Mental Health
I feel required to give immediate praise for Gillian Flynn’s debut manuscript, Sharp Objects right off the bat. This masterfully cringe-tastic adult mystery whittles away at any sense of reader’s common decency in the search for answers to not only the ‘whodunnit,’ but one family’s disquieting secrets.
That said, the ending – I have mixed opinions about.
I’ll get there. For now, let’s synopsis-ize this electric plot, and if you’re curious – no. I have not watched the HBO series.
That said, I can see Amy Adams doing a killer Camille Preaker.
Amy Ada – I mean – Camille Preaker, thirty-something mid-level journalist at Chicago’s FOURTH largest newspaper, The Daily Post. She’s almost exactly what you’d expect. She’s a “urine yellow” depressed. She’s plagued with millennial generalized anxiety, and has the self-confidence of an acne-riddled teenage girl with a lisp and an overbite.
Thankfully, her father-figure of an editor, Frank, gives her a Pulitzer-worthy assignment.
Go back to the ole hometown of Middlanowear, Missouri (i.e. Wind Gap) where everyone is either Old Money or Trash – or in Camille’s case, “I’m trash. From Old Money.” Stay with said trashy old money family since, ya know, she just got released from a 12-week Psych Hold. And, uh, oh yeah, report on the whole two murdered little girls’ story.
Camille nonplussed about the assignment wonders why she can’t cover Chicago’s horror stories, lord knows there’s plenty. But the paper needs this, and maybe Camille does too. So, she heads out. With no attachments in Chicago, she leaves her sad apartment behind and heads for Wind Gap.
Starting nine months ago, we have nine-year-old Ann Nash disappear, only to turn up strangled and toothless next to the river.
Now, it’s the disappearance of ten-year old Natalie Keene who drives the investigation.
And she’s dead.
Right after Camille gets to town, they find the girl’s body wedged in an alley. No teeth – again.
Boom. Chicago’s Fourth biggest newspaper has its lead on a serial-killer. Unfortunately, for Frank and the rest of The Daily Post team, they’re forced to rely on barely emotionally stable Camille having to interact with her emotionally unstable mother and half-sister.
Navigating the etchings of Camille’s past, a tight-rope relationship with handsome Kansas City detective Richard Willis, and the needling gossip of a small town may prove to be too much. But damn, if it isn’t worth the read!
*Below, I can’t promise there won’t be occasional spoilers.
As a general whodunnit this one precisely hits the mark. There are plenty of suspects, and readers will easily have their favorites, while also being wary of the trope’s Red Herring. However, this story is so much more than a mystery of murder. It’s a mystery of relationships, family dynamics, and mental health told to us through the eyes of a narrator who flat out knows how unreliable they are.
That in mind, mental health is handled superbly throughout the novel. Not just Camille’s but the collective of Wind Gap, as the small town continues to hide its skeletons. That is before ultimately succumbing to the truth. A truth involving a very misunderstood disorder that may be at the heart of our killer’s M.O.
But let’s talk Camille. As our protagonist, Camille alludes to her own disfunction quite frequently, but it’s only on page 60, where we finally hear her talk about her cutting.
She’s no ordinary cutter either. Her body has been serially carved up with a litany of words trenching every curve of her body, except for one space, in the middle of her back. This menagerie of words cements all the behavioral and mental damage we already know to be true about Camille.
However, the chosen words only raise more questions. Carvings range from innocuous words like cupcake, dumpling, and kitty, to words more worrisome like harmful, belittle, and wicked. All words she can feel burning, itching, and twinging on her skin, knowing their exact location. Locations that can only be covered under the guise of long sleeves and ankle-length pants.
In her dysfunction we meet a character that certainly feels original, but is also disarmingly vulnerable. A vulnerability that may lead to Camille’s demise if she can’t stay strong and stay on task. Unfortunately for her, a town of secrets, drugs, and violence will not be her ally in that endeavor.
*In the sense that these characters are bad.
Readers will know exactly what I mean, the moment they meet the world’s absolute worst thirteen-year old girl in Amma Crellin, and of course, her mother Adora. These two special ladies are also, *drum roll* Camille’s half-sister and mother.
Amma is Wind Gap’s residential “changeling.” At home she is the sweet, dolled-up, spoiled-rotten daughter of wealthy Adora. But on the streets of the little town, she’s Regina George. Well, she’s worse. So much worse.
In a town whose, “biggest business is hog butchering,” the dichotomy of its citizenry are “old money and trash.” And Amma sees herself as the entitled princess to the throne. She gets away with it all, doing things that not even a ne’er-do-well HBO teenager would admit to.
Drugs? Yup. Sex? Yup. Bullying? Yeah, and in consort with the former two. She’s truly the Mean Girl on the block. Only, if Amma’s around, it’s time to play nice because the little terror won’t bother writing up a burn book, she’ll simply scorch anyone in her path.
Then there’s her mother who is just a – what’s the word – oh yeah.
Excuse my language.
The woman basically never cared for Camille, especially after her younger sister Marian died.
Yeah. There are some layers here. Welcome to good ole Wind Gap, capital of the Podunk States of America.
Anyhow, Adora is that modern Southern Boomer with money she’s never worked a day in her life for. So, she’s entitled, a bit of a prude, condescending, hypocritical, and a whole lot of snob. The kind of selfish woman who will interject her opinions into everything, always commanding the center of attention. Only to suffer in perpetual anguish whenever someone airs a contradicting opinion or says anything she doesn’t want to hear.
*There are indeed spoilers below.
Okay, so I loved (most of) the ending. The introduction of Munchausen’s-by-proxy was a genius feint by Flynn to make it seem that Adora was our big bad all along. Now, personally, what I didn’t get was her decision to then tie the bow with such a quick resolution.
If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about.
If not. This -> WARNING – it’s your last one.
I can’t give enough praise for turning the potential for a sisterly Happily Ever After, into Camille having to come to grips with the fact that she grew up under a murderer’s roof and has now been caring for, and essentially, raising a second one.
The touch with the teeth as flooring for Amma’s doll house – genius. Yet, I don’t understand why she didn’t draw this discovery out. Let the readers ride alongside the mystery with Camille in real-time as she begins to suspect Amma was the killer all along, before plunging the final nail in the coffin?
Although, having just written that out, I think I realize why.
If she hadn’t, readers would be left wondering why there’s so much book left. The only way to keep it going would be for a trial, or meetings with Adora in jail, which might have felt more forced.
In pausing to think about it, the ending is a masterful execution of a short concise resolution with a whiplash of a twist. An elegant sense of closure for readers, who bared alongside Camille’s neuroses and self-harm, to discover that a couple mean girls could be the worst villains of them all.
One of the best books that I’ve read in the past few years, and I highly recommend it.
Flynn knocks this one out of the park with her characters’ depth, her cringe-worthy real world destructive behavior that certainly hangs out on the extremes, and her masterful handling of mental health.
After writing all this, I have to say, I’ve convinced myself.
Originally, I had listed Sharp Objects as a 4-Star on Goodreads, but it’s definitely worthy of that illustrious fifth star. So, I’ve just gone back and updated.
Now to look forward to my next dance with Flynn in Gone Girl (and no, I haven’t’ seen the movie).