Camille Preaker’s Chicago newspaper tasks her with reporting on a string of child murders happening in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. During her visit, Camille stays with her controlling mother, Adora; her quiet stepfather, Alan; and her beautiful and wild half-sister, Amma. As Camille seeks to unravel the mystery brewing in her small hometown she also battles her own demons, including her mental health and the memories of the death of her other little sister. The grisly details around the Wind Gap murders cast suspicion on many of the town’s residents, but the most puzzling detail is the removal of the victims’ teeth.
There are many female characters in this book, but they aren’t the stereotypical female characters you often see in these dark thrillers. Camille is headstrong, vulnerable, and flawed. I disagreed with many of her choices, but most of them felt realistic given her personality and history. Though at one point I was internally yelling at Camille, “Why would you do that?!” The book takes place in a small Midwest town before cell phones were widespread, and it isn’t surprising that the men in the story all seem to have an idea of what a lady should be, but very few of the female characters fit into this “box.” This is one reason why I really like Gillian Flynn’s novels. She knows how to write very complex and realistic female characters that defy tropes, and she doesn’t flinch away from portraying the dark or un-lady-like sides of life. Specially, I liked that her female characters used sex in ways that male characters often do; for example, as a sort of selfish release without strings attached and as a transactional act. The characters in this book– even the “good” ones– do morally questionable things. Many of the characters are morally gray, which adds realism to the cast.
Coming from a small Midwest town myself, I thought Flynn’s portrayal of the people and culture was mostly spot on. For example, the rich families get away with a lot, the residents are wary of outsiders, the kids are more wild than their parents realize, and though a small town may look charming on the outside, covered up crimes and hidden addictions are below the surface. I felt immersed in the story because of the mystery itself, the characters’ secrets, and the overall dark atmosphere.
A lot of messed up things happen during the plot of the novel. Aside from the actual murdering of young girls, there are many descriptions of sex, drug use by minors, self harm, child abuse, and prescription drug abuse to name a few. The pacing is fast and tense, with most of the events happening within a span of a few days, perhaps a week. Thrillers are known for their twists, but I could see some of the plot points coming. However, I believe this was Gillian Flynn’s first book, so it is clear that she has since made her writing even less predictable. Also, this book was published in 2006, so there have been many newer books that have overused some tropes and it may be a bit unfair to judge an older thriller for such things. Despite that, some of the twists near the latter half of the novel still took me by surprise.
Though it may not be Gillian Flynn’s best novel, it still had me hooked from the first chapter, and especially if you’re a fan of hers and haven’t read this one, I would recommend it as long as the darker parts don’t bother you too much. This is certainly a solid mystery/thriller for those who enjoy the genre. I’d give Sharp Objects somewhere between 3.5 to 4 stars.