A good friend recommended Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (2006), especially since she knew that we had both read Gone Girl and had both gone to see the movie version the weekend it came out. She recommended Sharp Objects to me because it was so disturbing that she really wanted to talk about it with somebody. I’m glad she did, because I really liked it. I tend to like disturbing and depressing books.
This one is about a reporter who visits her small Missouri hometown, one she left behind willingly and quickly, to investigate what seems to be serial murder. Two of the town’s young girls have been killed (with their teeth removed postmortem), and there are no leads. Camille begins to investigate, only to find few leads and tight-lipped police officers.
Camille’s family is strange. It consists of her mother, step-father, and thirteen-year-old half sister, whom Camille hardly knows because of their age difference. Camille has another sister who died young, and this is a source of constant worry and division for the family. The younger sister, Amma, is strange, acting babyish in front of her parents and acting out sexually and aggressively with her peers.
Camille, we learn, has a problem with cutting, and spent time in the hospital for it. She has carved all sorts of words into her flesh to take away the pain of her strained relationship with her mother and the lack of love she received as a child. She never knew who her biological father was, and her mother won’t tell her. Her entire body is scarred with these cuts, causing her to wear long sleeves and long skirts at all times.
When Camille finally figures out who the killer of the girls is, I wasn’t too surprised. However, even after that, there’s a twist. One that I sort of figured out early on. If you don’t want to know because you plan to read this book, do not read below.
The killer seems to be Camille’s mother, a selfish, cold, and uncaring woman who has a poor relationship with Camille and seems to believe that the dead girls were close to her. Camille, while investigating, also discovers that her mother was responsible for her sister’s death all those years ago. It was Munchausen by Proxy, and a nurse caring for her sickly sister had alerted doctors to this fact, but nobody believed her and nothing was done. In consequence, the sister died.
After Camille figures this out, her mother begins poisoning her, and Camille plays along because she wants to catch her mother and give the police toxicology reports. While this part of the plot seemed hokey and unlikely to me, it made for some great drama in the denouement of the novel. Her mother is arrested, and they find the pliers in her house that pulled the teeth of the town’s dead girls. But they never find the teeth.
Camille takes her sister Amma to live with her in Chicago, where they get help and try to heal from the trauma. However, a peer of Amma’s turns up dead, with some of her teeth pulled, and the police realize that she was the real killer. Amma, who resented her mother spending time with the girls, and who had lived such a strange life with a needy and selfish mother, had become a monster herself. Amma is prosecuted for the murders of her peers and her mother is prosecuted for killing her young daughter all those years ago. The teeth were found in her dollhouse; they made up the floor of the master bedroom, a replica of her mother’s bedroom floor with ivory insets.
This was a gripping book. I read it in two days, and I enjoyed the ride. There are some strange and uncomfortable sex scenes, especially when Camille sleeps with an 18-year-old boy, one of the suspects in the murders. I guess I’m a prude, but I have a hard time understanding how somebody can have casual sex with several partners in a matter of weeks during a stressful time in one’s disturbing hometown. But I guess such plot twists are “real” to Flynn.
If you’re looking for a good thriller written with literary expertise, this is it.