It's been a couple of years since I first found out that the screen rights to Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects had been optioned. Since then I've learned it's headed, not for your local theatre, but for your television screen. Having just finished the book, I can see the psychological thriller will make a dark and intoxicating mini-series somewhat in the True Detective mold. Much like we were by the detectives on that show, we're just as - if not more - fascinated by the dark side of Camille Preaker, the haunted, secretive reporter trying to shed light on a murder case, as we are the murderer and the victims of the crime. I suppose that's true for the lead character in most murder mysteries; we love our Poirots, our Lucas Davenports, our Kinsey Milhones, our Stephanie Plums but there's something about Camille. She's a whole lot darker, and more damaged. We may be fascinated but, with the way she conducts herself, we're not exactly falling in love with her either.
Here's the lowdown from B&N dating back to 2006 when this debut novel from the former Entertainment Weekly critic was first published:
"My sweater was new, stinging red and ugly." An edgy first line, and it provides the perfect opening for this gritty debut novel by journalist Flynn. Her protagonist, Camille Preaker, is a reporter for a second-rate Chicago newspaper. A solitary woman with a cynical bent, she appears to have carved out a workable life for herself despite a painful past and an estranged family. But when a second young girl turns up missing in Camille's hometown -- shortly after another local girl was found murdered -- Camille's editor sends her home to Missouri to cover the story. The question is, can Camille get to the bottom of the story before her demons get the best of her? A classic whodunit, Sharp Objects is an gripping page-turner. Readers follow Camille to the field as she examines crime scenes, interviews the friends and family of the victims, and probes reticent investigators for information. After all, the world of investigative reporting is tantalizing. Take, for example, the provocative flirting between Camille and a Kansas City detective assigned to the cases. Is it sex they're after, or simply information? And the gradual unfolding of Camille's alarming past will keep readers riveted until the very last page. Flynn writes with impressive authenticity about difficult, often painful, subject matter. As its title suggests, Sharp Objects is a cutting, incisive read.
Whoever wrote this blurb got it right, right? Camille is not your typical protagonist; once a cutter, always a cutter fighting the urge, Flynn gives us an unflinching look at Camille's sad secret, her inner demons, the tortured workings of her mind. The reporter drinks too much - actually a lot of the characters drink too much, or do drugs of one kind or another, Flynn making the point that there's not much else to do in this sleepy midwest backwoods of a town - and she often makes the wrong choices. One of them is allowing her editor, Curry, to talk her into going back to her hometown - a place she hasn't been in years - to cover the murder of a young girl, the second in as many years.
It's easy to see why she left Wind Gap. Her mother, Adora, is a piece of work. In retrospect I can't imagine why Camille would ever, ever subject herself to staying there at all, much less the length of time she hangs on. For me that was one of the few false notes Flynn struck. While the author tries to give credibility to the choice by making it a financial issue - she doesn't get paid much by the crappy newspaper she writes for and there's not much available in the way of an expense account - it's crystal clear Camille should steer clear of what is a very toxic environment. Adora, who Camille tells us is 'like a girl's very best doll, the kind you don't play with' craves adoration aimed at her but does not reciprocate in any kind of healthy, maternal manner, would put Mommy Dearest to shame. The wealthy owner of a pig processing plant, a place the author paints in all too graphic detail, Adora owns the small Missouri town. At one point we see she's powerful enough to waltz in and announce that an interview Camille is conducting is over. Finished. That's all she wrote. And Camille, a grown woman, cut down and humiliated, allows it. And yet Camille, like a child, still yearns for her mother's love, for her approval.
Oh, I can not wait to see who'll play Adora! In her late forties she looks younger with her 'glowing pale skin, with long blonde hair and pale blue eyes' she's the kind of mother Gone Girl's Amy Dunne might turn out to be. Manipulative, jealous, demanding and punitive. Hmmm. I wonder if Rosamund Pike would be available? Robin Wright, cold as ice, might fit the bill as well.
Camille's stepfather is purposely less interesting, he's a wispy nothing interested only in his aviation books and his cocktails. Only a man like that could allow the familial goings on to go on right under his willfully ignorant nose. Frankly, it doesn't matter much who plays him, he's not much more than background action.
And then there are the sisters; Camille's dead sister Marian that Adora showered all her affection on; caring for her, bathing her, ministering to her needs in sick devotion, casting Camille aside, and Amity - Amma for short - Camille's beautiful, prematurely sexualized thirteen year old half-sister who rules over the town's middle school with just as much power as her mother wields over the town. Another piece of work. And another female in Camille's life that she's drawn to and obsessed by. Flynn draws her in detail, 'her flushed face had the roundness of a girl barely in her teens and her hair was parted in ribbons, but her breasts, which she aimed proudly outward, were those of a grown woman. A lucky grown woman.' There should be plenty of young Chloe Grace Moretz types out there to play the role; so many of today's girls seem old beyond their years, innocence and modesty aren't traits to be admired in our snap-chat selfie-obsessed twerky world. (Okay, my grouchy lecture done)
The victims, as noted, aren't all that fascinating but as Flynn's supporting cast of characters are in Gone Girl, none are innocent victims. In Flynn's world we're all flawed and awful and some of us are downright creepy. John Wheeler, the brother of the victim Natalie is on the creepy side. As is Camille's sister. Did he do it? Did Amma, or one of Amma's nasty friends? Camille's mother? They're all suspects.
The one person we know didn't 'do it' is Richard, the St. Louis detective assigned by the county to work the case. I have to make another Gone Girl reference here because much like she did with the attraction between Amy and Nick Dunne in their early days, Flynn writes the budding romance with its slick form of witty repartee and flirty behavior between Camille and Richard perfectly. We feel their undeniable pull towards each other even while they work on the surface to keep it professional. When it comes, in the way it comes, we're not that surprised at how it happens. I was a bit skeptical about the workings of the sexual relationship with Camille and her secret staying under wraps, as it were, but it's clearly behavior familiar to high school students which is the last time the reporter engaged in any type of sex, so it makes sense psychologically. At bottom it's another example of the inappropriate choices Camille makes, and will continue to make. Self-sabotaging choices that mess up her head and her life.
Again, as in Gone Girl, the ending wasn't what I was expecting or wanting. I finished the book feeling slightly unsatisfied but you know what they say, 'you don't always get what you want but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.'
Number of stars? You know I don't do that but I'd probably give it 3 out of 4 amaretto sours. Oh yeah, they do a whole lot of drinking in this book.Who would you cast in the key roles of Camille and Richard in Sharp Objects?
Originally published 9/6/2016