Monday, February 23, 2015

**Spoilers Inside**

I finished the book early in the month, but because of travel haven't had time to write down my thoughts.  This book was such a downer- each of the nights I would read it, when I'd finally put it down, I'd be in such a low place, much like Antara said in her post.  I also totally mirror Vaishali & Stephanie in that I really never got invested. Here are some of my thoughts on the book:

I think that Gillian Flynn had a lot of good ideas that were lost in their execution throughout the book.  For instance, I liked that she was trying to develop a "dark thing" that ran in the family: Ben's obsession with annihilation (the most dramatic), all of the negative things Libby did growing up, like killing the dog (“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.”), finding out Libby's mom was depressed and couldn't get up in the mornings, Ben's daughter also being nuts, but I don't think that theme was well tied together and could have been a powerful statement on mental illness.  I also think Flynn wanted to show how things that start out small turn into a conflagration and become so huge: Ben's rebellion & teen angst as the biggest example, but also Krissi Cates who's life ended up falling apart after her lie and confession regarding being molested.  Each kid was trying to solve a problem in their own way and their solution grew into a beast that was much larger than either of them- resulting in lifetime consequences.  Again, this theme was there, but I felt like it's execution left me wanting.

I also think that the character development was weak and disjointed: like Vaishali mentioned, I didn't really buy Libby's transition from being monetarily motivated to investigate her brother, to suddenly caring about her brother.  I actually got really annoyed at the scene when she visited her brother in prison and internally was like, 'oh that's my darling brother, but no, he's a killer' back and forth- it just felt so unrealistic and contrived in the storytelling.  Libby was super young the last time she saw her brother, clearly only remembered what she was coached to remember (at the time of the scene), and Ben had been in prison for a very long time- its hard for me to believe that the mannerisms and things that reminded her of teenage Ben would (a) still be there after so many years in prison and (b) that she'd actually recall them and feel the sort of nostalgia & feelings she was feeling.  And speaking of mannerisms- I really hated that every time Libby put both hands down on a table, it'd be just like Ben- I think this was one of those devices that Gillian Flynn was trying to use to draw together both Libby & Ben and show their connection, but just wasn't well executed.

And then there are Runner and Diondra.  These characters were designed to make you hate them, to make you suspect them, and to make you crazy.  And that's all they were.  They were there as a plot device and an easy out- places to cast suspicion and a way to end the story (as was the Angel of Debt).  Runner was the deadbeat dad that only showed up when he needed money and was abusive and that's really all we learn about him.  Diondra was crazy and stayed crazy and we never got any insight into her craziness.   These characters just existed on the very fringe of believability and existed only to drive the story forward- basically plot devices, and not real people: Diondra got knocked up so there'd be a person for Ben to protect- we never really understood as readers what drives her to keep the kid etc.  Runner existed to be an obvious suspect and to motivate a lot of Ben's rage, but that's about it. 

I also think Flynn was trying to paint a bleak picture of the destruction of small-town, rural America with how she portrayed Libby's farm and it's demise, a lot of the towns she drove through (notably the arrays of dead malls, all the strip clubs, failing bars etc).  Again, I think this could have been a powerful theme, but it wasn't tied together and executed in a way that made the statement Flynn probably intended.

So, in short, I certainly hope this book was/is a stepping stone to Flynn becoming a bit better with all her ideas and learning how to really propagate the themes she intends and designing her characters better.  Everything was there- the idea and premise are so cool, but the execution was just not there.  Like Vaishali said, I'd like to read Gone Girl to see if Flynn gets it right!  I read this online: "The strength of Flynn's storytelling lies (at least partially) in lining up a series of events so that the plot falls down like so many dominoes." and I agree with that description of how Flynn set up this story, but in one too many places, she left the dominoes a bit too far apart and the reader had to knock a few down to keep the story going. 


My Thoughts upon COMPLETING "Dark Places" (Vaishali)

I really liked reading a lot of the analysis people posted. I actually think I’m probably going to be the harshest critic and could rant about what I didn’t like but I think the best way to put it really is that you can see in this book that Gillian Flynn is not a seasoned writer. I’m very intrigued to read “Gone Girl” now (after having seen the film), to see whether she’s worked through the issues I have with her writing. 

I agree with Stephanie that I honestly wasn’t too engrossed in the book. I’ll attribute that to the fact that, though Karen is right that none of these characters are likable, I honestly think that these characters were too black and white for me. I could probably talk about every character but I’ll start with Libby. 

I was disgusted by Libby's thoughts of jealousy when other victims were getting attention. I understand she tried to say “yeah, I know, I’m a bad person” but I didn’t feel that she was actually feeling any sort of conflict about her really mean thoughts. She was unapologetically a terrible person, in my opinion. Which brings me to the fact that I didn’t quite see the transition of her starting to care about the case. There was a line where she says something like “I would have gone to see [ someone ] even if they didn’t pay me.” I didn’t think it was realistic that she went from having only one motivation in life, acquiring money in the most lazy way possible, to saying something like “I would have done it for no money.” I’m not saying she didn’t develop a desire to find out the truth, I just think the writer did not subtly bring the readers to feel that she had grown. 

I think what makes “Gone Girl” so great (having only watched the movie), is that the storytelling is so on point. I think that’s exactly what she is working on in this book, but isn’t able to master. The face that earlier in the day, the axe and shotgun had been opportunely placed and then coincidentally, all the murders happen at once--I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I actually think there’s more potential for the movie because maybe putting this in a visual context will work better, as opposed to “After chopping the wood, she placed the axe near the fire”. 

I have more to talk about and am looking forward to reading more of what people have to say. I think reading all your comments made me like the book better. Antara sometimes will describe the plot of a “really bad” movie she’s seen and I’ll be hearing it and say, “Actually, that sounds pretty good!” because she picks the interesting parts, tells me those, and embellishes. I think that’s kind of what your guys’ posts did for me!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dark Places -- Steph's post *SPOILERS*

I agree with a lot of the posts here and agree the most with Karen's assessment-- namely because she used the term "deus ex machina" (yay for high school English!)

So compared to Gone Girl, which drew me in really from the start, I really struggled to warm to this book. It didn't suck me in and I didn't find myself really feeling interested in how these various storylines would come together until the 50% to 75% point of the book. My feelings nearer to the end of the book were this: "oooh, maybe it's THIS".... "oooh, maybe it's HIM".... "oooh, maybe THIS is the killer"... And then I was disappointed like nearly everyone here to learn "oh-- it's ALL of it... and at the SAME TIME"... It was too convenient and I agree that the catalyst being this Angel of Debt scenario and the many situations coming together during a single clusterfuck moment was a little bit too much to believe.

The one thing that I did think about after finishing the book was the idea of inertia and what it takes in our lives to pull us out of it. If you look at all the parallel story lines, there is a system in each character's life that pushes them into a standstill. For Patty, it's the weight of her failed life. For Libby, it's the depression and generally anxious mindset that she has had since her childhood. For Ben, it's the low self esteem that keeps him in these moderately abusive circumstances.

But in each case, there is something that is a spark that pushes each character over the edge and into action. For Patty, is it protecting her son and leads her to consider something as crazy as a staged death. For Libby, I don't know that it is any one thing-- maybe the Kill Club. But not just its existence but that glimmer of hope in what she had concluded was a dire situation in her life. And for Ben, it's the hope of providing for a child and in a way that his own father never had. And when the items he had purchased go missing, I think that's what makes him snap-- it's like he can't catch a break. Incidentally, the bag of clothes reminded me a lot of the trashy daughter in To Kill a Mockingbird-- how she had flowers at her trailer home and that's how we knew she wanted better in her life.

In this vein, it also made me think about the fight for life. In two cases-- Patty and Libby-- they are both ready for death but have this push for life in a moment where there is a reason. Patty is ready to die when she opens the door and the hired assassin plunges the knife into her chest. She is doing this to save her children (financially speaking). But the minute she has to save her child because she is about to become collateral damage, she has a reason to live and fights against what just moments before she has been resigned to. Same with Libby. She early on gives herself milestones prior to death. One month more. One month more (or something like that). She is down in the dumps and sees no value to being on this earth. But when she is being hunted by her niece and Diondra, she runs for her life. There is something interesting in the way of fight or flight that is interwoven throughout this book.

The movie could definitely be interesting but I hope that they change the ending b/c I feel like seeing the convergence at the end as it happened in the book would be really unsatisfying. Totally agree too that Charlize Theron is absolutely the worst casting for this. Given how I picture this character, I actually think Theron's Monster co-star Christine Ricci (who is small and childlike) would be the perfect casting for Libby.

This was fun!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What's Goes on in Gillian Flynn's Head?!?!

So I finished this book a week ago and was not happy. The first few chapters were really engrossing and had you wondering what the F**k goes on in this author's head. Well I guess I'm still wondering that, but by the end of the book I was just annoyed. Maybe I was looking forward to a good thriller that was more in present time rather than the flashbacks, not sure, but there was something about this book that I could have stopped reading in the middle and been fine walking away.

All the characters annoyed me and  the fact that she introduced characters and never really developed them. It really annoyed me. The Kill Club, her aunt, Angel of Death, her Dad. Especially how they didn't develop her aunt's character. You think with the way she was described as a real go getter - Gillian would have developed her character a little bit better and made her more a part of the story. Helped Libby grow or solve the mystery and find out that she is a great aunt, but she is just MIA. Especially when Libby left a message for her on her answering machine your expecting some sort of character introduction/development, but nothing. Ben was just pathetic and basically did nothing but allow events to happen around him. Diondra yet again tries to take the life of another sister and he sits idly by protecting who? His daughter, so she turns out to be a killer like her mother??!?! WTF? I mean wouldn't you rather turn the mother of your child in and allow the one relative you have and love raise her? Your sister (I mean not when she was born, but between his Aunt and Libby, it was possible and poor Libby might have been an actual fully functioning adult (which she became at the end, but it would have saved everyone more grief)). Also, the fact that Libby went to confront/meet Diondra alone and wasn't the slightest bit creeped out by her place or the fact that she has a niece that was seven years younger than her? It seemed as if Libby accepted that a little too fast, even for her.

The angel of death was also another one of those characters. It is just touched upon at the Kill club and then here he comes to tie up all the loose ends in a nice little bow. She didn't do a good job foreshadowing that character in my opinion. While reading this you can tell that she is developing and working her characters out and hasn't quite got it figured out like gone girl.

I don't think I'll be reading her first novel after this one. I may still be interested in any future novels she may write, but I'm ok not reading her earlier work. Looking forward to reading what others have to say about the book!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Dark Places - Antara's thoughts on the book (read after completing)

I have to say, this author really knows how to hook in her readers. I read this book in 3 evenings, and that felt leisurely for how quickly I would have wanted to read it.

I had actually first heard about Gillian Flynn a couple of months before 'Gone Girl' was released when she was a guest on my favorite NPR comedy show - 'Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!' The hosts kept making fun of how f---ed up her mind was -- and jokingly kept asking 'What's WRONG with you??' And so I immediately wanted to watch the movie, bc I have a love-hate relationship with psychological thrillers -- I love them, bc they scare the crap out of me, and I hate them bc I'm traumatized for months afterwards.

And so that brings me to 'Dark Places.' Might I recommend not reading this on a wonderful, happy, family vacation when you're going to celebrate someone's marriage? I found myself feeling really morose, and down on life in general, and then realized the only reason I could be feeling this way was because I had spent the last three evenings immersed in the life of really down-trodden people. I agree with Karen, that she did such a great job characterizing each person - they weren't caricatures of each personality type, and seeing Libby's growth was very believable. I also liked the sort of friendship she developed with the Kill Club guy (forgetting his name) - and that they didn't try to push it too far and introduce undertones of romance. God, I hope they don't do that in the movie version.

The final climax did feel a little orchestrated. I started getting flashbacks of 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' where I felt like the story started in one place, and ended up somewhere totally else. But I was still hooked (Flynn's forte for sure). Agreed that 'Angel of Debt' was too convenient, and so was the timing that the information was revealed of all the people he had 'assisted' in his years at work.

But I actually liked the ridiculousness of Ben choosing to stay in jail, since that was the only way Diondra (who I freakin' HATED) would love & respect him. He was so pathetically trying to be liked by her - it was infuriating when reading - but the ending to me was thematically similar to Gone Girl (*spoiler alert*) where Ben Affleck chooses to live the next 18 years with his psychotic wife, because of some strange, twisted logic that makes sense to him.

Anyway, a very entertaining read. Skeptical about the film, esp with Charlize Theron, who I agree, does not fit the look as far as I imagined. Her character was not only super-petite, but I think they said she looked like she never aged after everything that happened to her, and looked like she was 12. I'm sure the movie will be decent though, as long as they don't totally screw it up.

Looking forward to reading other people's thoughts! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dark Places -- finished the book **SPOILERS**

Just finished the book last night. Overall I thought it was good, and I liked the format of switching between the flashbacks and the present day. This device worked especially well towards the end to set the more frantic pace as the impending hour of doom approached. I was also taken by the fact that though none of the characters were likable, they were real and rang true to life. We have seen the detached, depressed girl with the traumatic past. The harried single mother. The weirdo teen guy. The deadbeat dad. The sociopathic rich girl. I also liked that while Libby was an emotionally stunted taker, she was able to kind of evolve on her quest to find out what happened to her family -- at first she started out with the money motivation, and by the end it was her own quest for self-actualization. This made you actually want to root for her towards the end.

Now getting into what I didn't like -- while the Angel of Debt angle was a very interesting twist, it seemed a little too "deus ex machina" for me. The more I thought about it, the more it didn't make sense. Although Patty didn't have her shit together, she still cared about her kids a lot, so it seemed odd that she would want to be killed at home with her kids there sleeping. For example, Michelle was known to be always snooping and skulking around at odd seemed like a horrible risk to take. And then for the Angel of Debt and Diondra to be killing members of the family *at the same time* was a little much for me as well. Also, the idea of Ben standing by idly while Diondra killed Michelle really bugged me. I know the book kept saying Ben "hated" Michelle, but to me it came off as more of a typical brother-sister annoyance thing, not such a deep hatred where he would stand by as his own flesh and blood was murdered. Or maybe it was not even that, but that the scene was playing more to the general idea of how deep Ben's impotence really ran, even in a moment of crisis -- just standing by and letting other people make the decisions.

Another thing that bothered me was that Ben was still covering for Diondra even after everything. I appreciated the portrayal of their relationship when they were teenagers and could easily imagine the emotionally abusive relationship between them being true to life. It was believable to me that a lame teenager like Ben would grovel at a cruel, manipulative sociopath's feet in exchange for some small crumbs of inclusion that she threw at him. However, I would think that after 20+ years in the slammer, he might have matured a little into realizing what a horrible person Diondra was. I get that there's the argument of their child, but I think I'd rather my child be raised in foster care than a crazy manipulative killer. Interested to see others' thoughts on this.

Despite these little incongruous moments, I generally found the book very engrossing, and am looking forward to reading Flynn's other works. She did a good job of scene-setting, combining the decay of the heartland with her troubled characters, and I'm interested to see the format of her other books and compare against this one.

So apparently they are making a movie that comes out this year based on the book. Charlize Theron will play Libby, which I think is a terrible miscasting. As much as I love Charlize and thinks she does troubled characters well, she is too old and too statuesque to play a small (I think the book said under 5') stunted 31 year old. I think Rooney Mara would have been a way better choice, personally--but I guess she doesn't have the same draw that Charlize does, obviously.

Looking forward to all your thoughts on the book!