Book Reviews

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

51imjknO8PL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I finished reading Gone Girl and I was shocked to find two other books by Gillian Flynn in my posession. Dark places and Sharp Objects. I finished Dark places last night and I must take a breather before I touch any other books. What an intense experience – it’s like living with a survivor of the Texas Chainsaw massacre for an entire week. It was like glimpsing into the abyss. It was like having to stare at somebody’s mutilated body without flinching or looking away. It was real enough to give me shivers.

This is the story of Libby Day, sole survivor of the Day massacre, where Ben Day, her brother, killed her mother and her two sisters.

Libby Day lives in a bad neighbourhood and 25 years later after the crimes happened, she lives a dysfunctional life, relying on the diminishing income gathered from donations when the murders happened. When she is told by her lawyer that the remaining amount in her account is under $1000, she is faced with reality. She will have to get a job and make money to be able to feed herself and her cat.

She is an odd character – short (five foot something), blonde hair with her original red roots shining through, looking like a child most of the time – partially because she never really grew up from that day. Somebody wrote a self-help book on her behalf and hordes of women visit her on her brother’s behalf asking her (yelling sometimes) for her to retract her testimony that put her brother Ben into jail.

Now faced with the reality of having to look for a job, she accepts the invitation of a club of “murder-mystery” fanatics obsessed with different cases – the Days being one of them. She is now hearing different views on the murder of her family – some assumptions are that her father was to blame – always looking for money he went mad and killed his wife when she would not pay him. Others point the finger at Krissi’s father who went wild after finding out that his precious daughter had been played with by Ben. No-one seems to think Ben did it.

Libby has a dilemma now. Look at her life as a liar that put her brother behind bars or find out who really did it.

I liked Libby and her honesty. Well, lack of…

I am a liar and a thief. Don’t let me into your house, and if you do, don’t leave me alone. I take things. You can catch me with your string of fine pearls clickering in my greedy little paws, and I’ll tell you they reminded me of my mother’s and I just had to touch them, just for a second, and I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me. My mom never owned any jewelry that didn’t turn her skin green, but you won’t know that. And I’ll still swipe the pearls when you’re not looking. I steal underpants, rings, CDs, books, shoes, iPods, watches. I’ll go to a enough. Just sling it over a shoulder and leave. Prescription pills, perfume, buttons, pens. Food. I have a flask someone’s granddad carried back from WWII, I own a Phi Beta Kappa pin earned by some guy’s favorite uncle. I have an antique collapsible tin cup that I can’t remember stealing, I’ve had it so long. I pretend it’s always been in the family. The actual stuff my family owned, those boxes under my stairs, I can’t quite bear to look at. I like other people’s things better. They come with other people’s history.

She is a pure soul, marked, scarred and left bleeding by the horrible tragedy that had befallen on her family. Her family is not perfect. The head of the family was her mother. She was raising her four children alone after her scumbag husband took everything from her farm inheritance and squandered it. She was struggling with debts, a moody teenager (Ben), three boisterous girls under 12, one bathroom, one crummy husband that keeps coming back for her money and loads of worries.DarkPlaces_3

Worries find you easily enough without inviting them.

On the day of the murders she found out that her farm, her only thing left from her parents, was being foreclosed. The bank lender, Len, a greasy feel type of man, was hitting on her telling her that there are things he can do to prolong the foreclosure.

At some point, Len was going to make a real pass at her, forcing her to make a real decision, and the game was so pathetic it made her want to weep. The hunter and the hunted, but it was like a bad nature show: He was a three-legged, runt coyote and she was a tired, limping bunny. It was not magnificent.

Libby’s father was back in the scene again but he’s not helping. He’s such a bad person, he even asks Pat, Libby’s mother to sell of her wedding ring and give him the money. He’s running a drug selling business in the area and he owes people money. Dangerous people. He’s a dead-beat dad and he had a motive.

My dad once sent me to a neighbor’s house for a free pity lunch, told me to look under their sofa cushions and bring him any change.

Ben, he had a girlfriend. But there was also Krissi. A fifth-grader, she was looking at Ben with big eyes, the highschooler that was always kind to her. Krissi falls for him and starts sending him notes. Ben does not encourage her but he does not shoo her away either. They would talk after school on the steps and one day, Krissi bends over and kisses him. When he pushes her away, she tells everyone that he touched her. That they did sexy things. That he molested her.

25 years later, Libby is looking for Krissi. She finds her mother and also her father, but both want nothing to do with her anymore. She is now a stripper.

After another forty minutes of driving, the strip clubs started showing up: dismal, crouched blocks of cement, most without any real name, just neon signs shouting Live Girls! Live Girls! Which I guess is a better selling point than Dead Girls. I imagined Krissi Cates pulling into the gravel parking lot, getting ready to take off her clothes at a strip club that was so entirely generic. There’s something disturbing about not even bothering with a name. Whenever I see news stories about children who were killed by their parents, I think: But how could it be? They cared enough to give this kid a name, they had a moment—at least one moment—when they sifted through all the possibilities and picked one specific name for their child, decided what they would call their baby. How could you kill something you cared enough to name?

Krissi initially sticks with her story that Ben abused her but she gives in and confesses that she lied as all the adults back then seemed to be more interested in what she was saying when she said that Ben touched her.

Krissi Cates
Krissi Cates

Pat, Libby’s mother, was unbelieving and sick with worry when she found out there was a rumour going around about her son being a paedophile, having touched many young girls. It was a frenzy. She goes to talk to Krissi’s parents but she gets kicked out of the house and then she starts getting desperate when she can’t find Ben anywhere to ask him what’s going on.

Patty wondered how many hours she and Diane had spent rumbling around in cars together: a thousand? two thousand? Maybe if you added it all up, a sum total of two years, put end to end, the way mattress companies always did: You spend a third of your life asleep, why not do it on a ComfortCush? Eight years standing in lines, they say. Six years peeing. Put like that, life was grim. Two years waiting in the doctor’s office, but a total of three hours watching Debby at breakfast laughing until milk started dribbling down her chin. Two weeks eating soppy pancakes her girls made for her, the middle still sour with batter. Only one hour staring in amazement as Ben unconsciously tucked his baseball cap behind his ears in a gesture mirror-perfect to what his grandpa did, his grandpa dead when Ben was just a baby. Six years of hauling manure, though, three years of ducking calls from bill collectors. Maybe a month of having sex, maybe a day of having good sex.

Her desperation is thickened when she talks to the police officer who is also looking for Ben and she realizes that her meagre savings will have to be put aside to find a lawyer for Ben. Her sister, Diane, leaves her some money too before she goes and the exact amount seems like all the money that Diane had.

dark-places-theron-hoult-8But now finally, she was being revealed for what she was: a woman who couldn’t quite keep it together, who lived from emergency to emergency, borrowing money, scrambling for sleep, sliding by when she should have been tending to Ben, encouraging him to pick up a hobby or join a club, not secretly grateful when he locked himself in his room or disappeared for an evening, knowing it was one less kid to deal with.

Ben, during all of this, was doing drugs, getting it on with his pregnant girlfriend, chopping cows up with his Satan-worshipping deranged friends. He was in a bad crowd and 25 years later he was in jail.

Libby is trying to figure out whether Ben really did practice Satanism. He did listen to heavy metal music but that doesn’t mean that he is into sacrificing humans.

I passed a field of cows, standing immobile, and thought about growing up, all the rumors of cattle mutilation, and people swearing it was Devil worshipers. The Devil lurked nearby in our Kansas town, an evil that was as natural and physical as a hillside. Our church hadn’t been too brimstoney, but the preacher had certainly nurtured the idea: The Devil, goat-eyed and bloody, could take over your heart just as easily as Jesus, if you weren’t careful. In every town I lived in, there were always the “Devil kids,” and the “Devil houses,” just like there was always a killer clown driving around in a white van. Everyone knew of some old, vacant warehouse on the edge of town where a stained mattress sat on the floor, bloody from sacrifice. Everyone had a friend of a cousin who had actually seen a sacrifice but was too scared to give details.

She goes to see Ben in prison and everytime she talks to him, he gets more and more defensive. There is something he’s not telling her, why he does not ask her straightforwardly for her to change her testimony. There is something dark under the surface still.

“Hey, Ben, can I ask you a question?” He went shark-eyed, tight, and I saw the convict again, a guy used to being on the receiving end, taking question after question and getting attitude when he asked his own. I realized what a decadence it was, to refuse to answer a question. No thanks, don’t want to talk about that and the worst you get is someone thinks you’re rude.

Ben was with his girlfriend on the night of the murders. Diondra. She was pregnant and even his deat-bead dad warned Ben that it might not be his child. Diondra was a rich, spoiled, bratty bitch who was only afraid of one thing – her father finding out she was pregnant.

tumblr_nlsgfyIQ9Z1rbw50xo2_500When she turned sixteen, Diondra’s dad had given her a promise ring, a gold ring with a big red stone that looked like a wedding ring and she wore it on that finger, and it meant a promise to him and to herself that she would remain a virgin til marriage. The whole thing grossed Ben out—doesn’t that seem like you’re married to your dad? Diondra said it was a control thing, mostly. This was the one thing her dad had decided to get hung parental thing: my daughter may drink or do drugs but she is a virgin and therefore I can’t be as fucked up as I seem.

Eventually we have the full cast of suspects:

  • Runner Day, the father. Went to the house to pressure his wife to give him more money as he was running up a debt with bad people that had been called in.
  • Ben Day, the brother. To impress his Satan-worshiping friends, he commits a mass murder
  • Ben Day, the brother. To run away with his pregnant girlfriend, he needs money and what he had saved up is not enough. He robs the mother and gets caught, killing her and any other witnesses
  • Krissi Cate’s father. To get rid the world of a pedophile, he drives over to Ben’s house but as he can’t find him there, kills everyone else as a message

The massive spoiler follows now: During that night, there was not one but two murderers in the house at the same time. One killed a little girl, the other killed the mother and one of the other little girls. Libby ran out and Ben ran after her to shoo her away from the scene. If she had returned, she would have been killed too.

I’m not going to tell who was the murderer but I can definitely tell you it wasn’t any of the above. And when Libby finds out who it was, her life is again in danger.


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