Sharp Objects - 2015 Reading Challenge
Quick note before I begin: I am putting the finishing touches on an ebook of my published stories to give away to all my email subscribers. If you would like a copy, feel free to sign up now and you will be the first ones to receive it. Thanks and happy reading!
It's a really great time for women in the writing industry. If you think about it, a good majority of the blockbuster bestsellers that have exploded in both the publishing and film worlds in the past fifteen years have been written by women. JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, EL James, Gillian Flynn -- these ladies, whether you like them or not, represent about a billion books sold worldwide and influence that reaches to countries all over the planet.
In a world that only a couple hundred years ago forced many female writers to hide behind masculine noms de plume, this is remarkable.
While most people know Gillian Flynn as the author of Gone Girl (which I read last year and thoroughly enjoyed), I am actually even more impressed by her debut, Sharp Objects. I chose this as my 'book that scares you' because I was told over and over how dark it was, and based on my experience with Gone Girl, I had no problem believing that.
There were moments of Sharp Objects that were indeed frightening. When the premise involves a mediocre journalist returning to her hometown to write about two girls who have been kidnapped, murdered, and their teeth pulled out, then it's bound to be a bit scary. And when your main character is covered in scars with a nefarious history, it is also pretty dark.
Camille Preaker is the daughter of a rich, southern pig farm owner -- the more-than-slightly psychotic Adora -- and left the tiny hole of Wind Gap behind years ago in favor of big city life in Chicago. When she returns to report the story, she is unsurprised to find most of her childhood friends, exes, enemies, and acquaintances are right where she left them -- just with more kids, tighter facelifts and bigger drinking problems.
Flynn captures this small-town return perfectly, in my experience. While I've never had such a negative experience going back to the 13,000-strong metropolis where I grew up, I have definitely experienced that eerie feeling of -- wow, everyone is still here.
Camille finally gets the chance to meet her half-sister Amma, the spitting image of her delicate mother and even more delicate stepfather, Alan (note, there are a plethora of A names in this book). For a thirteen-year-old, Amma exhibits shockingly bipolar behavior -- ranging from a sweet, innocuous angel in her mother's presence to a promiscuous, recreational-drug-swallowing mean girl everywhere else.
There is a lot to work with in this story and Flynn does so masterfully. You could chop raw potatoes with her sentences and the reader knows that each character has a fully developed history, even if you don't end up reading it. Everyone is just so real and their experiences are relatable.
Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.
Sharp Objects is about many things. It's about the desperation of small-town life, and the things bored people will do in attempts to just not be bored anymore. It's about what women are really capable of (a theme that is also highly present in Gone Girl) vs. what society imagines women are capable of. It's about loving someone so much that it becomes selfish. It's about competing for attention, about trying to fit in when all you're aware of is how much you stand out, and about challenging our preconceived notions of people we don't really know.
That's a lot of things, but Flynn tackles them all, and I would argue she does so incredibly well for a debut novelist. It helps that she was an experienced journalist when she started out, which means that she already had a firm grasp on her angle of the world.
This book is heavy and not for the faint of heart. The majority of the bad reviews I've read of it were from readers complaining it left them feeling 'yucky'. While I think it's a pretty immature way of describing a book that's so well written and does so much, I guess I can see where they're coming from. If you're not looking for a dark, psychological thriller then don't pick it up. But if you like suspense and are looking for more than just cheap thrills from the perspective of middle-aged male detectives, definitely give it a try. There's a lot of perspective waiting for you between the pages.
Feature image credit: Antediluvial, 2007