Okay, so I came to Flynn’s defense after reading Gone Girl. A lot of people accused that book of being sexist. I tentatively disagreed, erring on the side of assuming good intention. I’m very sensitive to people flinging invective towards art that challenges convention. Gone Girl is not a misogynist book, it’s a book about misogyny. We need people making art who aren’t afraid taking on the big subjects. Write a book about racism or sexism or homophobia or whatever, and you run the risk of being accused of the very thing you’re attacking. People today, especially on the internet, have a tendency towards white washing, everything’s gotta be very clean and proper, and if something makes you uncomfortable than it’s bad. But that’s what art is supposed to do, push you out of your comfort zone and really confront the world. That is, at it’s essence, what Gone Girl was attempting to do. It might be clumsy and imperfect, but it has real value beyond simple entertainment. Flynn portrays extreme situations and extreme characters to shine a light into the unexplored darkness, and for that she should be celebrated.
Sharp Objects, Flynn’s first novel, is equally extreme, if not more so. It’s also clumsier and even more imperfect and quite possibly yes actually for real this time maybe just a little bit pretty sexist. Alright, since I wasted your time with that big old digression up top there, I’ll just cut to the chase, shall I? Sharp Objects is a slick and thrilling puzzle-box of a novel that takes on some pretty huge themes – femininity, sex, beauty, violence, death, family, mental illness – and generally handles those themes well. I’m not convinced that Flynn puts forth any good or fair answers, but she does raise some interesting questions.
So, it’s a gritty mystery story. There’s this small town in the south, and two girls have been abducted, probably murdered. Ex-citizen Camille Preaker, a self-abusing psychologically unbalanced Chicago journalist, is sent back to her erstwhile hometown to investigate. It’s all terribly grim and depressing, almost cartoonishly so at time. If you thought the preternatural villainy of the lady in Gone Girl was a strain on credulity than you’re not even going to wanna bother picking this up. Camille bops around town. She talks to a lot of men, who are usually stupid and horny and basically decent. She also talks to a lot of women, who are usually conniving and bitter and basically insane, non more so than our protagonist. She gets nagged by her insane mother, bonds with her insane 13-year old drug-using casual sex-having sister, fucks a couple guys, fucks up a couple relationships, reunites with high school bitches who have grown up to be regular bitches, visits the slaughter yards to think about sex… You know, the usual.
The investigation barrels on at the thrilling pace one expects from this sort of novel. The idea with this sort of book is that the sheer brutality and momentum of the narrative will propel the reader past the various implausibilities and plot holes and flat-out dumb shit at such a terrific pace that the problems will all vanish in the rear-view before you’ve got a chance to think about them. For the most part, it works here. Sharp Objects is a deeply compelling and chilling horror-crime-thriller. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you might want to give it a shot. Flynn is an absolute master at throwing your face in shit and making you want to keep running towards it. Does she have anything real or interesting to say? I’m not convinced. She is good at making me feel queasy though, and any art that makes you feel something is at least worth considering.