Monday, December 03, 2012

Post 999.6: Sharp Objects (2006) Gillian Flynn

For some reason I never review books on this site, mainly because I don't read all that much any more that isn't about food or history or the history of food or essays.  I thought I had lost my taste for fiction (besides short stories and George R.R. Martin).  This semester I took a Horror Fiction class and it's been kind of a kick in the pants for me, I had read almost all of the assigned texts except for the final book, Gillian Flynn's first novel Sharp Objects.  I initially read a good chunk of it while sucking down beers and was thoroughly blown away.  Today I decided to restart the book from the beginning and not drink while reading it.  I needed a drink after finishing it.  Hell, I might need a shower after reading it.

Sharp Objects is a modern psycho-sexual thriller instead of a standard horror novel.  As a fan of gruesome procedural crime shows (Law & Order: SVU) I figured I had some of the plot pegged pretty early.  There are some familiar side characters and themes but many similarities to the genre are non-existent due to; Flynn's prose (which at times is frighteningly sharp), her protagonist Camille, and the general miasma of unease Flynn imparts.  Stephen King's blurb on the back jacket calls it, "An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights."  I'm hard pressed to think of a better adjective than "nasty".  This book, in a number of ways, reminds me of some of my favorite American thrillers from the 1970s.  Bloody, cruel, almost unrelenting in their nastiness, completely willing to grab you by the scruff of the neck and rub your nose in how shitty human beings can be to one another but then at the end of it you want more.

I'll be honest, I don't read many female authors.  To be sure I love Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, Daphne DuMaurier, Anne Tyler, and there are one or two others whose names escape me but if you look at my collection it's mostly men.  I don't have anything against women authors but, frankly sexist of me, my experience with genre fiction leans me towards men, particularly when it comes to mysteries and thrillers.  I'm more of Jim Thompson kind of guy than Elizabeth Peters or those series where busybodies and their cat(s) solve crimes.  When it comes to movies, it's a different story but for books, yeah I go for gruff drunken noir with sultry vixens and broads with moxie.

Flynn knocked me on my ass from page one.  She has the terse, brick to the face style I adore.  And she kept me on the back foot, not plot wise (though the ending is vicious doozy), but because Camille is such a dynamic, foreign character to me.  With most of the male protagonists I can find something to connect to or engage in some hero worship (who doesn't want to be Phillip Marlowe?) but with Camille, there was minimal connection.  I felt deep empathy for her and was engaged by her character and at times felt painfully protective of her but as a male reader at times I felt at turns, uncomfortable (creeped out at one or two points by Camille and often by the book's other female characters), sheepish, and as if I was seeing an aspect of women I either willfully ignored or simply never had any reason to consider (some would call that part and parcel of being a white male privilege).  The sexuality of the book caught me off guard and I'm no prude or stranger to the works of Nin, etc, etc, but there's an edge to it I'm not familiar with.  It is not even a factor of "naked time" but a strong undercurrent of surreal, voyeuristic, jealous longing, constant comparison and appraisal throughout the entire novel.  Abstractly I comprehend, practically I just don't get it.  Limits of my gender consciousness and experience, more than likely.  

From a gender neutral thriller standpoint, Sharp Objects is fucking great.  I wasn't expecting the ending though when I read it again I'm sure it will be apparent (during reading I noticed a couple of clues but was swept up the prose so I just kept moving).  If done right, it would make one hell of a movie.  It moves fast, and at times I had to force myself to slowdown or take a break.  The tension starts early and keeps building, Flynn knows the trick of imparting menace, dread, and sans those a crushing weight of depression into each scene, even the most innocuous scenes.

This is one of those works I want to rant and talk to someone about but I can't because I don't want to give anything away.  Since we are now in the deep and dark December and with the holidays looming, if you're in the mood for something "nasty" about going home again definitely pick this up. I look forward to picking up Flynn's other works.  Well done, Flynn you've gotten me hooked on fiction again.      


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