Friday, September 26, 2014

Dark Places: My take on the book by the author of Gone Girl


Dark Places is the story of Libby Day whose testimony sent her brother to prison for murdering their mother and two sisters twenty four years ago. Libby was just seven at the time. Now, thirty-two and broke (a perpetual state with the impoverished Day family) and unable to function properly, Libby teams up with a ghoulish group called the Kill Club who believe her brother is innocent and pay her to re-investigate the crime. 

As we all know, Flynn knows how to write a thriller - the world is waiting for the screen adaptation of Gone Girl set to open October 3 - and no one does flawed and creepy characters like she does. Encouraged and supported by Lyle, the leader of the group and probably the most likable character in the book, Libby, slowly and reluctantly opens herself up to the possibility that her imprisoned brother Ben may not have been the killer. 

In Flynn fashion, the chapters reveal different perspectives; Libby's in present day alternating with that of Ben and their mother Patty's, back during the time leading up to the murders. It was a technique which kept me ripping through the pages and wondering did he/didn't he? right through to the end.


Flynn really knows how to write flawed characters doesn't she?  No one is innocent in a Flynn book. The author excels at revealing humanity with all our ugly failings; self-serving, weak and disreputable. There were no heroes living at the Day house. Libby herself, the protagonist, is a self-proclaimed liar and a thief, with a penchant for palming miscellaneous trinkets. I found myself feeling very much like I did when I read Flynn's Gone Girl; I hated everyone but there's no way I could stop reading!

And no character is quite as creepily flawed as Ben Day, especially his fascination with the young girl, Krissi Cates. I was so conflicted reading that segment, feeling judgmental then sympathetic.  If the Kill Club is to be believed Ben is innocent of the murder charge, with their alchoholic deadbeat dad, Runner Day, being the prime suspect. But Ben is far from innocent too, and while Libby finally, reluctantly begins to investigate the crime, visiting Ben in jail to try and get some answers, Ben would prefer she just accept that he didn't kill their entire family and leave it at that.

Unfortunately I didn't always buy the choices Flynn's characters make, most notably the mother Patty's major decision upon which everything hinges and which we only learn in the final chapters. While she's a desperate woman, I found her solution simply unbelievable and the actions it sets in motion felt too contrived and convenient.


Another miss for me was when Libby's loser dad "Runner" gets kicked out of a mens' home for drinking and takes up residence in an old tank in an abandoned industrial development where we encounter several other squatters. I know there are places where the homeless gather but the setting didn't ring true to me and was reminiscent of the "Blue Book Boys" living in an old shopping mall in Gone Girl, what I thought was one of the weakest elements in that book.


Still that's a fairly minor note, a personal peeve of mine. What isn't a minor detail is the very bad behavior of Ben's secret girlfriend, Diondra the new girl a couple of years his senior, her friend, the scary Trey Teepano and Ben himself, with his 15 year old's need to prove himself a man and finally get some respect. Diondra is some piece of work; manipulative, selfish, spoiled and gross. For example, left to her own devices for weeks at a time while her parents are away, she allows her three dogs to go to the bathroom in the house. Her solution, to step around the poop which she douses with room spray. Gross. She - aligned with Trey - treats Ben so poorly, teasing and laughing at him, that it's very difficult to know what he sees in her - except for the fact that his hormones are raging, with his hard-ons competing with his low self-esteem for attention. Mixing in alchohol and cheap weed, Flynn brings out the worst in him.




I couldn't help but think of the actors playing the roles in the film. Charlize Theron as Libby, seems odd casting as Libby is small and wiry as a child AND as an adult; an important fact in the last exciting pages of this rather uneven novel. The gorgeous Theron, at 5'10" doesn't match, in fact couldn't pull off some of the actions Flynn writes for Libby as they require a tiny build. Clearly director Gilles Paquet-Brennor who also wrote the screenplay, re-wrote the characters. I HATE it when they do that.

Chloe Grace Moretz physically fits the part of Diondra to a T but I would have thought the character would be too yucky to appeal. On the other hand, actors love a good 'bad guy' role, don't they? The badder the better.



Trey Teepano (Shannon Kook), Ben Day (Tye Sheridan) and Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz)


Corey Stoll doesn't look much like the grown up Ben either. At over 6'3", with his shaved head, he's utterly unlike Flynn's description of the adult Ben, his hair still red and flowing. If the part is true to the book - chances are it won't be - Stoll, an excellent actor, will be very much underused, as he was in This Is Where I Leave You (Read my take on the movie)  

Christina Hendricks on the other hand does seem well cast as their mother, the overwhelmed Patty. The young potentially murderous Ben is played by Tye Sheridan; I don't much care for the idea of him either. I went into that in a much earlier post.


Last I heard the movie was supposed to debut this past September. That didn't happen; it looks like they're aiming for sometime in 2015 here in the states, with 2014 debut dates of November 14th in Norway and November 20th in Argentina. You'd think with such a good cast, they'd want to capitalize on the excitement built around Gone Girl, wouldn't you. Since they're not I'm wondering if it's another case of the movie just being awful, like Serena seems to be


There's no poster, no trailer than I can find, and very few stills floating around the internet. I'll follow up when there's something to follow up with.
My rating? 3 out 4 little liars.



Parts of this post have appeared previously.


2 comments:

  1. Well, i finally got around to reading this one. Like everyone else i loved Gone Girl, but Sharp Objects didn't really hit the mark for me. I thought Dark Places was much better. A real page turner. However, i tend to agree with you about the movie. Now that the trailer is out, i really question the casting. I'm afraid they're going to re-write Libby as a strong, independent female lead....which she isn't, but Theron is usually so great at expressing those attributes. I also really hate the idea of Stoll as Ben Day. I read Bed as more timid and introspective than the always expressive Stoll. Anyways, hopefully i'm wrong but i do not have high hopes for this one.

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    1. I love Theron and Stoll is 'always expressive' as you say but they really are both wrong for the parts as written by Flynn. Especially Theron, Libby is a mess. Did you note The Kill Club is now made up of former police and investigator types while to be honest, Flynn's Kill Club is a lot of ghoulish amateurs with a creepy obsession. I have low hopes too:) Oh well, another one bites the dust ... probably.

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