I loved Gone Girl, and for a long time I was under the impression that it was Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. It was much later that I discovered she had authored two other books prior to that, the first one being Sharp Objects. And you can see her flair for writing psychological thrillers and twisted characters in her first book too.
Sharp Objects starts with Camille Preaker , a small-time crime beat reporter assigned by her boss to dig up the story of what seems to be the beginning of a serial killing spree in Wind Gap, her hometown. Two young girls killed in two years, and both of them are well, toothless when their bodies are discovered. Yup, their teeth are plied out by the murderer, every single one of them. Sounds like a pretty solid premise to base a decent murder mystery, right? Well, midway through the book the case just felt like a crutch to explore the three main characters and their dysfunctional relationship – Camille, her mother Adora and half-sister Amma who she has never properly met till date. When Camille gets back to Wind Gap after ages, she is forced to stay with Adora, Amma and Alan Crellin, her step-dad, so that she can increase her chances of networking and picking up quotes from old neighbours and friends. It ends up proving a bit counter-productive though, as her mom isn’t really pleased or supportive of her daughter’s assignment. The local police, assisted by a Kansas City detective, Richard Willis, aren’t forthcoming either.
As you read about Wind Gap, it’s history and folks; you get the feeling that there is something seriously off about the place. It just feels so suffocating and claustrophobic. And at the very least, quite disturbing. We the readers, of course, view that through the microcosm of Preaker/Crellin household.
Camille is damaged and recovering and loss of her sister and emotional abuse years ago, something she still grapples with and can’t make sense of – Did her mother love her? Did she love her younger sister more than her? Why has she always been so distant with Camille at home, though she is perfectly capable of pampering and nurturing to keep up appearances in the society?
Camille lashed out in her teens, by taking part in debauchery and cutting words into her skin. A decade later, she commits herself into a psych facility to wean away the cutting habit. But her stay in Wind Gap begins to take a serious toll on her as old memories, dormant resentment and hurt resurface. At one point she senses herself being sucked back into her old life with her mother, controlling, dominant and .. forceful mollycoddling. Even more unsettling is the new addition into the family charade, Amma, who at thirteen, acts younger than her age at home, to get Adora’s attention, but acts out more than her age at school and everywhere else in town. She has a vicious streak and through her, we meet her gang of girls, all unapologetic about bullying, drugs, flaunting sexuality and just general meanness. Amma takes the cake though.
Adora literally treats Amma as a pet doll, and when Camille enters the picture, she isn’t sure how to treat this new development. Camille can’t figure out Amma either. And to be honest, neither could I. So when, Amma seems to warm up to Camille, and has this candid conversation with her, where she admits she gets a real kick out of hurting people, you realize at that point that, both are, in a weird way, two sides of the same coin. Just that Camille went onto hurting herself.
So how did Camille and Amma end up turning into the people that they are? We also get a whiff of rumour about Adora’s mother being a cold, emotionally distant person. Is it a case of abuse handed down from two different generations and manifested in different ways?
So what about the murder mystery, you ask? Well, Flynn handles that too in parallel, but with lesser finesse than what she exhibited in Gone Girl. The last few pages were convincing but rushed. At 250 pages, this book makes for a crisp, sharp read. But if a few more pages would have smoothened those li’l frayed edges….