Monday, April 9, 2012

"Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn

Libby Day is a survivor of a massacre that killed her entire family when she was only seven years old. The murderer was her eldest brother Ben Day. Now thirty-one, Libby lives off the trust money set up for her when she was a child. That money is pretty much gone, so Libby must face the prospect of working for the first time in her life. A money-making scheme comes to her, however, when a group of people calling themselves the Kill Club get in touch with her. They want to buy momentos off her; they want insights only she can provide, all for a price.

The catch is that the Kill Club thinks that Ben Day is innocent. They want Libby's help in proving this. After all, she was only seven when her testimony put Ben away for life. Since she needs the money, Libby goes along with it. Of course, she soon finds that there were more than a few truths hidden back when the murders occurred. Her investigation is intercut with flashbacks to the past, from the viewpoints of Ben Day and their mother Patty Day, recounting events of the day the ended in the gruesome deaths.

If there is one thing that "Dark Places" makes obvious it's that no amount of writing style or ability can truly overcome having such a tiresome, annoying main character. Libby Day is self-absorbed, self-pitying and lazy. She's a confessed thief and is entirely unpleasant to everybody she meets. Yet we're supposed to spend 400-odd pages in her company. Why? Why would I want to do that? About the only seemingly sympathetic character is Patty Day, but she's dead by the time the story begins. Even Ben Day, though presented as possibly - even likely - innocent, is a pain in the butt. Think your everyday tortured, misunderstood teen and you get the picture.

That I managed to finish the book says something about both my perserverence and Flynn's eventual ability to draw you into the story. In my opinion, events could have been sped up a little bit in the opening few chapters. It really took time for me to be able to take interest in the plot and characters. As stated, this had a lot to do with Libby Day herself. I didn't like her and, as the story began, didn't really care about what secrets she might uncover when she investigated her past. Still, Flynn does a good job of drawing both past and present strands together, though the finale is disappointly flat.

Yes, fiction can have flawed characters. It should do. But give the reader at least something to hold on to. I can't say it enough - if your main character makes the reader want to reach into the pages of the book and throttle them, something is going wrong. I've read too many otherwise decent thrillers in which this problem simply can't be overcome.

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