23. A 2017-2018 New York Times bestseller: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
List Progress: 21/25
Sharp Objects is entertaining. Its prose moves quickly, its very immersive into the lead character, and the imagery is very evocative. Sharp Objects is also very brutal towards female characters, obscene in its depiction of youthful sexuality, and depending on how you read it, quite sexist. It is a very entertaining book and I enjoyed reading it, and I am left wondering what that says about me.
Sharp Objects is the 2006 debut novel by Gillian Flynn, who made it big with Gone Girl in 2012. It was recently developed for a HBO mini-series starring Amy Adams, and any discussion of my reading the book has to be prefaced with the fact that I watched the entire series before picking up the novel. (I will try to keep this from being a “who did it better?” review.) Going in knowing all of the major events and twists, I had a slightly backwards approach to a mystery story, but I like to think it helped me analyze how the story itself holds up under scrutiny. Not that the plot is really the point (no pun intended).
The story follows Camille Preaker, a reporter who is sent from Chicago back to her small hometown in Missouri to cover a series of brutal murders of young girls. She has to sort out the facts of the case while dealing with her passive-aggressive Southern belle mother, her passive stepfather, and her hellion thirteen year old half-sister, as well as flirting with the big city cop sent down to work on the case. Camille’s backstory is a grab-bag of traumas and pretty much any trigger warning out there should be applied to this book. It is not for the faint of heart and earns the title “pulpy” in every sense of the word.
Through the eyes of this damaged female protagonist, and written by a female author, the story could perhaps be considered a deconstruction of stories about violence against women, about how much our fiction and our news cycle love Pretty Dead Girls. But I’m not sure if it is or not. Camille undoubtedly has a great deal of internalized misogyny, and I can’t quite decide if that is an intentional trait written into the character or a trait that Flynn herself shares. To paraphrase a line from Slings & Arrows, it feels more like something that shows us brutality, rather than teaches us about brutality. But it also shows us the ripples of that brutality, so maybe it is worthwhile as a message? I don’t know if I can say.
The mini-series tones down a lot of the stories uglier traits, smoothes it into more of a police procedural mold, and is better at some aspects of the story but much worse at others. The book is grosser, but in a way that feels very (again, no pun intended) pointed. The book wants you to be disgusted by the factory hog farm, but the redneck teenagers, by the promiscuous thirteen year old. Even if just through the necessity of casting an older actress to play the half-sister, the show cleans up some of the grossness, and possibly in the process, normalizes it.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was entertaining.
Would I Recommend It: Yes. Trigger warnings for murder, rape, self-harm, underage sex, torture.