The house is a bloodbath, most of its occupants are dead, and a little girl huddles in the ice cold snow waiting for it all to be over. Shortly after the blood, there is a confession from one of the few people who might have even been a suspect. But the memories don’t all add up for the little girl as she grows older and begins to question what police say happened at the house on that dreadful night.
At its heart, Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn, is a startling mystery that begins with a horrible scene (honestly, this book is not for the faint of heart) and keeps circling back to it during the course of the novel. In fact, it’s a story that gains in momentum precisely because it revisits different perspectives of that chilling scene in first person narratives from before the scene happens. The lead up to the scene that we as readers already have firmly set in our minds builds the anticipation, as well as the dread.
Libby Day is a survivor, but to survive what she did is a horrible nightmare, every moment of life a reminder of those who have died. While she is the protagonist, it is instead her mother and brother who really give us the story from before the horrible happening, however. Indeed, their alternating chapters of the book make for the most drama because I knew what they were leading towards, but finding out how they got there was fascinating. Also, knowing that several of the characters who they interact with will be dead within a matter of hours adds to the anticipation.
What really makes Dark Places a compelling novel, though, are the revelations that come to Libby during the course of finding out the truth in an effort to make money. For twenty-five years she has dedicated herself to a story of the events of that night without digging deeper into her subconscious, and it’s her process of digging, along with what she finds, that kept me grounded while all of the other chapters put me into a tailspin. Libby isn’t the most likeable protagonist, but she is definitely pitiable due to her circumstance, and her realizations feel real. Honest.
That being said, though, the subject matter isn’t for everyone, as I alluded to before. Flynn isn’t one to shy away from graphically detailing the scene itself, and it truly was a bloodbath. The language she uses to describe the scene, as well, is not sympathetic. On the contrary, it almost seems to be a tone that relishes the scene, and the ultimate carnage. I was able to get through it because it was good, descriptive writing, but I know some readers can’t reconcile the objective nature of the writing with their wanting to sympathize with the victims.
I do recommend this book because of the setup. I’ve always enjoyed when the alternating chapters is done well, and Flynn herself does a different variation of that concept with Gone Girl, something that also works in that novel. While Libby Day is not quite likeable, it is understandable why, and I think Flynn does a good job setting up her emotional difficulties as well. Dark Places truly is a well-written and relate-able book. However, if you’re prone to nightmares, I wouldn’t suggest reading it right before you go to bed.
I give the novel FOUR AND A HALF stars.