A better title for this novel would’ve been Murder Runs in the Family, but that would’ve been giving away the entire plot.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is the story of a dysfunctional southern Missouri family that solves their problems with murder. At 252 pages, it’s actually a very small book. 4 out of 10 stars. This was a very disappointing read.
Twenty-eight year-old Camille Preaker comes from the small town (population just over 2,000) of Wind Gap, Missouri found in the southeastern corner of the state right on the Mississippi River. Her mother Adora Crellin, is a millionaire heiress and earns $1.2 million a year from the hog butchering factory in town and all of its subsidiaries. Camille now lives in Chicago and works for a second-rate newspaper desperate to get a great story. So when her editor, Frank Curry, hears that nine year-old Ann Nash was murdered in Wind Gap last August and now a second girl, ten year-old Natalie Keene, is missing, he sends Camille home to write the story. Camille doesn’t really want to go but she respects and admires her editor and wants to write a really great story for him, so she goes.
Early on, it’s very difficult to like Camille. The author, Gillian Flynn, has a way of making you hate all of her characters. She doesn’t focus the story on the quaint little town of Wind Gap. She focuses on every single one of Camille’s faults and there are many. Camille is an alcoholic. She ends up in unsavory situation after unsavory situation. She sits in motel showers watching other people’s pubic hair float by (I really didn’t need to know that). She carves words into her skin (didn’t need to know that either). And late in the novel the night after sleeping with the deputy, she ends up in bed with Natalie Keene’s grieving eighteen year-old brother John. The very next day she’s back with the deputy trying to give him a blowjob in his office. Camille is somewhat of a sociopath with no awareness of boundaries or what’s socially acceptable. The author focuses on Camille and this social stupidity rather than the actual murders.
The writing is so-so. Many of the newly published authors cater to New York’s publishing scene which wants sex, graphic sex, graphic self-harm, and violence. I miss the old days of just reading a good yarn, a well-written story told from the author’s heart rather than some sick editor’s morbid fascinations. The actual meat of the story was entirely glossed over. By the end of the novel I had hundreds of questions that were never answered. How could this girl not realize she was being poisoned? And how could she not know that her mother had poisoned her sister to death? Over and over again the clues are laid out for her and she refuses to look at them without a pint of alcohol in her. It’s okay for the protagonist to have faults, but not this many and please don’t make that the heart of the story. This was supposed to be a story about a child killer. Actually it’s about two child-killers in the same family.
So let’s just ignore all the crap in the novel about Camille, her binge drinking, her inappropriate sex with all the wrong and inappropriate men, and her issues with self-harm (she carves words into her skin and is covered head to toe). The actual plot of the killings is short and yet vague. When Camille was twelve and her sister Marian was seven, their mother Adora poisoned both of them. She would bring them glasses of milk with a blue tint to them. Marian obediently drank the mixture, but Camille protested. So Marian eventually died from the poisoning leaving Camille alone with their psychotic mother and stepfather. Years later, seeking to replace Marian, Adora has another daughter, Amma. And immediately begins poisoning her too.
Amma is now thirteen and in fact has just turned thirteen. She is the high school’s mean girl and runs a clique of three other mean girls. She is okay with her mother poisoning her because she gets her mother’s undivided attention when she’s ill. But that changes when she befriends Ann Nash and Natalie Keene. Adora begins paying attention to the younger girls rather than to Amma. So Amma and her mean girl clique lead poor Ann Nash out into the woods and murder her, then Amma removes all of her teeth. Nine months later they do the same thing to Natalie Keene. Amma saves those teeth, as well as hair from the dead girls, and uses it in her dollhouse. In fact if you look inside the dollhouse it’s a sick menagerie of tokens of the murders–mosaic floors made of the dead girls’ teeth, braided rugs made with the dead girls’ hair, etc.
What Camille does is conduct a few interviews, get drunk almost every night, and drink poisoned milk from her mother to make her happy. In the last ten pages the actual meat of the story is dumped on you all at once. The police arrest Adora for the murders and for Marian’s murder when Camille almost dies of poisoning and they find six different types of poison in her system. Camille takes custody of Amma and brings her back to Chicago where Amma makes friends with Lily Burke. In less than a few months, Lily is found murdered in exactly the same way as Ann Nash and Natalie Keene. Camille searches Amma’s things for the teeth and finds them in the dollhouse along with other trophies taken from the dead girls.
A four page epilogue ends the novel. Adora is convicted of Marian’s murder while Amma is convicted of the three girls’ murder. She will most likely be released in five years when she turns eighteen.
I tried watching the HBO series but it focused on Camille’s drunken binges. She was barely functional and an apathetic central character. I was bored.
4 out of 10 stars. Poorly written and a boring story except for the last ten pages. The HBO series fails for the same reasons.