Review: Dark Places

Dark Places

by Gillian Flynn

“I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.”

Gillian Flynn is best known for her astoundingly successful thriller, Gone Girl – the story of a not-so-good guy who is being investigated in the disappearance of his wife, the twist being that the wife is actually still alive and enjoying herself by putting her cheating husband through the ringer in a most complex act of deception and punishment. Viewers flocked to the theatre in droves when the movie, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, premiered. It received positive critical response both in novel and film form, and catapulted Gillian Flynn’s career to another level. Gone Girl is the third novel by the author and all three have been critically acclaimed.

Dark Places is in short, the story of the grown-up Libby Day, the only member of her family to survive a mass killing spree –  the exception being  her big brother Ben, who is incarcerated after being found guilty of the murders.

Libby was just a kid when her family were brutally slaughtered in her childhood home – a gun was involved, as was a bit of strangling and some serious business with an axe – and 24 years later, she’s still not dealing with it. She hasn’t worked a day in her life, living off the charity of others, and reality is beginning to hit home as her money is finally running out. She’s haunted by that night as any one would be, and memories creep in and out of her psyche as she struggles to sludge her way through a mundane life. She left the town of Kinnakee, Kansas behind in a cloud of Satanic cults and morbid ministrations, all of which her brother has been accused of.

” I passed a field of cows, standing immobile, and thought about growing up, all the rumors of cattle mutilation, and people swearing it was the 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. “

When Libby is approached by a twenty-something kid named Lyle who promises her money in exchange for chats about her past, she’s tempted. Her anxiety and general laziness doesn’t make working a real job a viable option and the thought of being able to sell some old, doodled-up notebooks and letters from her dead family members for quick cash  is appealing. Lyle is quickly keen on getting Libby reveal and learn more information about that fateful night and when he senses her trepidation, he proposes a meeting with an organization he is affiliated with – The Kill Club.

Deep in the bowels of an abandoned warehouse, Libby is introduced to the members of the Day Chapter of the Kill Club, a group of mismatched misfits and conspiracy theorists, all of whom are convinced that Ben had nothing to do with the murders. They seem to know more details about that night even than Libby and are not as happy to meet her as she thought they would be. Libby’s testimony helped put away her big brother, testimony that many of the members believe was falsified and coerced. Lyle suggests Libby try and gather information from people involved with her family at the time of the murders, like her deadbeat and transient father or a guy named Trey, who used to hang around with her brother. But the most important interview they want Libby to conduct is that with her brother, Ben Day.

” Those “Day enthusiasts,” those “solvers” would pay for more than just old letters. Hadn’t they asked me where Runner was, and which of Ben’s friends I might still know? They’d pay for information that only I could get. Those jokers who memorized the floor plans to my house, who packed folders full of crime-scene photos, all had their own theories about who killed the Days. Being freaks, they’d have a tough time getting anyone to talk to them. Being me, I could do that for them. The police would humor poor little me, a lot of the suspects even. I could talk to my dad, if that’s what they really wanted, if I could find him. 

Not that it would necessarily lead to anything. At home under my bright hamster-y lights, safe again, I reminded myself that Ben was guilty (had to be had to be), mainly because I couldn’t handle any other possibility. Not if I was going to function, and for the first time in twenty-four years, I needed to function. I started doing the math in my head: $500, say, to talk to the cops; $400 to talk to some of Ben’s friends; $1,000 to track down Runner; $2,000 to talk to Runner. I’m sure the fans had a whole list of people I could cajole into giving Orphan Day some of their time. I could drag this out for months. 

I fell asleep, the rum bottle still in my hand, reassuring myself: Ben Day is a killer. “

Although ecstatic to see baby sister after 24 years behind bars, Ben is reluctant to give Libby any more information than what is currently on record, and Libby finds herself curious for the first time since the murders. Questions begin to swim in her mind about things she had once taken as fact – was her brother really part of a Satanic cult? Was he really a child molester as little Krissi Cates had accused? Who is Diondra? Did he really act alone? Aided by the motivation of fast cash and a nagging feeling in the pit of her gut, Libby is on a quest to find out the truth even if it means revisiting the dark places she’s locked away in the back of her mind.

” “Never mind,” I said, removing the phone from my ear so he knew I was leaving. 

“Libby, hold on, hold on.”

“No, if you’re going to work me like some. . . convict, I don’t see the point.”

“Libby, hold the hell up. I’m sorry I can’t give you the answer I guess you want.” 

“I just want the truth.”

“And I just want to tell you the truth, but you seem to want. . . a story. I just, I mean Christ, here comes my little sister after all these years and I think, well, here might be one good thing. One good thing. Sh sure as hell wasn’t helpful twenty-four goddam years ago, but, hey, I’m over that., I’m so over that the first time I see her, all I am is happy. I mean there I was in my fucking animal pen, waiting to see you, so nervous like I was going on a date, and I see you and, jeez, it’s like, maybe this one thing will be OK. Maybe I can have one person from my family still in my life and I won’t be so fucking lonely, because — and I mean, I know you talked to Magda, believe me I heard all about that, and so year I have people who visit me and care about me, but they’re not you, they’re not anyone who knows me except as the guy with the. . . and I was just thinking it’d be so goddam nice to be able to talk with my sister, who knows me, who knows our family, and knows that we were just, like, normal, and we can laugh about goddam cows. That’s it, you know, that’s all I’m asking for at this point. Just something as tiny as that. And so I wish I could tell you something that won’t make you.  . . hate me again.” He dropped his eyes, looking at the reflection of his chest in the glass. “But I can’t.” “

Dark Places tells its story via the perspective of teenage Ben, his mother Patty Day, and grown-up sister Libby. Having something to hide is an understatement when it comes to the angsty and hormonal Ben, and Patty is overwhelmed with the impending loss of her family farm and struggling with the raising of four young children all on her own. Through their words readers learn the truth of the night in question and will be shocked to find out what really happened, in true Gillian Flynn style.

While Flynn is known for her plot twists and dangerous turns as her novels progress, she is also known for surprise endings. Most avid thriller readers find their fun in figuring out the mystery before the literary super sleuth does, but Flynn makes that task difficult as she is very good at keeping things close to the vest. Dark Places is no exception, but unlike Gone Girl, I was very disappointed in the last minute plot twist and found it did not make any sense to the entirety of the story. I had one part of the mystery figured out and was still surprised by the exact how’s and when’s, but the definitive shock factor at the end was out of place and unnecessary – not to mention I found it completely unbelievable after reading testimony from the different perspectives as I had.

Just for that ending, I give Dark Places 3.5 out of 5 stars. She had me at a solid 4.5 stars until that ending. I swear, I was going to give it to her but Gillian Flynn really let me down. To say it was a WTF moment would be an understatement. I found the actual storyline of Dark Places to be superior to Gone Girl until the end, which really made it a disappointment, considering the bang Gone Girl ended with.

Dark Places has been made into a feature film starring the incomparable Charlize Theron. You can find it on Amazon Prime.

 

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