Dark Places (Flynn)

Dark Places
Gillian Flynn, 2009
Crown Publishing
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307341570

I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details—proof they hope may free Ben—Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club...and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members—including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 24, 1971
Where—Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Education—B.A., University of Kansas; M.A., Northwest University
Awards—Ian Fleming Steel Daggers
Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois

Gillian Flynn is an American author, screenwriter, comic book writer, and former television critic for Entertainment Weekly. Her three published novels are the thrillers: Sharp Objects, Dark Places, and Gone Girl.

Early life
Flynn was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Both of her parents were professors at Metropolitan Community College–Penn Valley: her mother, Judith Ann (nee Schieber), a reading-comprehension professor; her father, Edwin Matthew Flynn, a film professor. "Painfully shy," Flynn found escape in reading and writing and watching horror movies.

Flynn attended the University of Kansas, where she received her undergraduate degrees in English and journalism. She spent two years in California writing for a trade magazine for human resources professionals before moving to Chicago where, in 1997, she earned a Master's in journalism at Northwestern University.

Initially, Flynn wanted to work as a police reporter but soon discovered she had no aptitude for police reporting. She worked briefly at U.S. News & World Report before being hired as a feature writer in 1998 for Entertainment Weekly. She was promoted to television critic, writing about both tv and film.

Flynn attributes her craft to her 15-some years in journalism:

I could not have written a novel if I hadn't been a journalist first, because it taught me that there's no muse that's going to come down and bestow upon you the mood to write. You just have to do it. I'm definitely not precious.

Although Flynn considers herself a feminist, some critics accuse her of misogyny because of the unflattering depiction of female characters in her books. Yet feminism, she feels, allows for women to be bad characters in literature:

The one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing.

Flynn also said people will dismiss...

trampy, vampy, bitchy types—there's still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad, and selfish.

Flynn began writing novels during her free time while working for Entertainment Weekly. Her three books are—

Sharp Objects (2006) revolves around a serial killer in Missouri and the reporter who returns to her Missouri hometown from Chicago to cover the event. Partly inspired by Dennis Lehane's 2001 Mystic River, the book deals with dysfunctional families, violence, and self-harm. It was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar in 2007 for Best First Novel by an American Writer. It won the Crime Writers' Association "New Blood" and "Ian Fleming Steel Daggers" awards.

Dark Places (2009) centers on a woman investigating her brother who was convicted in the 1980s, when she was only a child, of murdering their parents.The book explores the era's satanic rituals and was adapted into a 2015 film. Flynn makes a cameo appearance in the film.

Gone Girl (2012) concerns a couple, the wife of which disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband who comes under police scrutiny as the prime suspect.
The novel hit No. 1 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list for eight weeks. Times culture writer Dave Itzkoff wrote that the novel was, except for the Fifty Shades of Grey series, the biggest literary phenomenon of 2012. By the end of that year, Gone Girl had sold over two million copies (print and digital).

After selling the film rights for $1.5 million, Flynn wrote the Gone Girl screenplay. The 2014 film, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, was released to popular and critical acclaim.

Other writing
Flynn was an avid reader of comic and graphic novels when she was a child. She collaborated with illustrator Dave Gibbons and wrote a comic book story called "Masks," as part of the Dark Horse Presents series. It came out in 2015.

Flynn agreed to write the scripts for Utopia, an forthcoming HBO drama series adapted from the acclaimed British series Utopia. The HBO series is to be directed and executive produced by David Fincher, who also directed Gone Girl.

Personal life
She married lawyer Brett Nolan in 2007. They met through Flynn's grad school classmate at Northwestern but did not start dating until Flynn, then  in her mid-30s, moved back to Chicago from New York City. The couple still resides in Chicago with their two children. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/13/2015.)

Book Reviews
Libby Day, the protagonist of Flynn’s disturbing second novel, was, as a seven-year-old, the only survivor of her family’s brutal murder by her older brother.... [Years later she] is forced to reëxamine the events of the night of the murder. Flynn’s well-paced story deftly shows the fallibility of memory and the lies a child tells herself to get through a trauma.
The New Yorker

In her first psychological thriller, Sharp Objects, Flynn created a world unsparingly grim and nasty (the heroine carves words into her own flesh) written with irresistibly mordant humor. The sleuth in her equally disturbing and original second novel is Libby Day....It's Flynn's gift that she can make a caustic, self-loathing, unpleasant protagonist someone you come to root for.
New York Magazine

Gillian Flynn coolly demolished the notion that little girls are made of sugar and spice in Sharp Objects, her sensuous and chilling first thriller. In Dark Places, her equally sensuous and chilling follow-up, Flynn…has conjured up a whole new crew of feral and troubled young females…. [A] propulsive and twisty mystery.
Entertainment Weekly

Flynn follows her deliciously creepy Sharp Objects with another dark tale.... The story, alternating between the 1985 murders and the present, has a tense momentum that works beautifully. And when the truth emerges, it’s so macabre not even twisted little Libby Day could see it coming.

Edgar-finalist Flynn's second crime thriller tops her impressive debut, Sharp Objects. When Libby Day's mother and two older sisters were slaughtered in the family's Kansas farmhouse, it was seven-year-old Libby's testimony that sent her 15-year-old brother, Ben, to prison for life. Desperate for cash 24 years later, Libby reluctantly agrees to meet members of the Kill Club, true crime enthusiasts who bicker over famous cases. She's shocked to learn most of them believe Ben is innocent and the real killer is still on the loose. Though initially interested only in making a quick buck hocking family memorabilia, Libby is soon drawn into the club's pseudo-investigation, and begins to question what exactly she saw-or didn't see-the night of the tragedy. Flynn fluidly moves between cynical present-day Libby and the hours leading up to the murders through the eyes of her family members. When the truth emerges, it's so twisted that even the most astute readers won't have predicted it.
Publishers Weekly

Once in a while a book comes along that puts a new spin on an old idea. More than 40 years ago, Truman Capote (with In Cold Blood) took readers inside the Clutter farmhouse in Holcomb, KS, to show them what it was like to walk in a killer's shoes. Flynn (Sharp Objects) takes modern readers back to Kansas to explore the fictional 1985 Day family massacre from the perspective of a survivor as well as the suspects. For all public libraries. —Nancy McNicol
Library Journal

The sole survivor of a family massacre is pushed into revisiting a past she'd much rather leave alone, in Flynn's scorching follow-up to Sharp Objects (2006).... Libby Day, seven, testified that her brother Ben, 15, had killed the family.... [Now 31, she] reluctantly agrees to earn some...cash by digging up the leading players.... Flynn intercuts Libby's venomous detective work with flashbacks to the fatal day 24 years ago so expertly that as they both hurtle toward unspeakable revelations, you won't know which one you're more impatient to finish. Only the climax, which is incredible in both good ways and bad, is a letdown. For most ofthe wild story's running time, however, every sentence crackles with...baleful energy.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Did you like Libby as a character? Do you think the author intended for her to be likeable?
2. As the book shifted between points of view, did you find one most appealing, most enlightening, or most reliable?
3. Why has Libby ignored Jim Jeffreys’s advice to earn an income for so many years? Do you believe she feels she’s earned the money she’s been gifted by strangers? What is her attitude toward money?
4. Throughout the book, many characters seem to feel as though life is something that happens to them; others take a more proactive role in steering its course, often with disastrous consequences. Discuss the book’s theme of action versus reaction, investigation versus acceptance. Where does Libby’s behavior fit in this contrast?
5. Like others Libby meets during her investigation, Barb Eichel seems pleased to have been contacted, having “wondered if you’d ever get in touch.” Why did Barb wait for Libby to come to her? Did Barb do enough to remedy the harm she thinks her book has done?
6. As Lyle first brings Libby through the Kill Club gathering, he distinguishes between different types of members—role players and solvers, for instance. Do you consider these to be meaningful differences? How do the various groups make use of the club?
7. In considering the case of the missing girl Lisette Stephens, Libby thinks to herself, “There was nothing to solve.... She just vanished for no reason anyone could think of, except she was pretty.” Do you think it’s strange that Libby considers this an uninteresting case? What does her attitude toward Lisette say about her view of her own family’s murder? Was there something to “solve” in the Days’ murder?
8. What do you make of Magda, the middle-class Kill Club member so fond of Ben, and so callous to her own son? What does her character tell us, if anything, about the Kill Club and its members?
9. One of the appealing aspects of the Day case (according to Lyle) is the role of children as instigators, victims, and unreliable witnesses. Do you see any similarities among Krissi’s accusation, Libby’s false eyewitness account, and Lyle’s role in the California fires? Were these children to blame for their mistakes? In what ways did they attempt to right the wrongs they caused?
10. “No one ever forgives me for anything,” one character says. What role does forgiveness play in Dark Places? Which characters should be more forgiving? Less?
11. What do you think of Diondra’s relationships? Why is she attracted to Ben? Why is Trey such a constant companion? Do you think she was romantically involved with Trey?
12. Patty Day frequently worries whether she is a good mother. What do you think? How does the book depict parents in general? Who do you consider the “good” and “bad” parents in the book?
13. Did you think Ben was guilty? Does the author intend for us to doubt him?
14. Why doesn’t Diane return Libby’s phone calls? What does she mean at the end of the book when she says, “I knew you could do it.... I knew you could...try just a little harder”? Do you like Diane?
15. Why do you think Libby, at the end of the book, thinks twice before shoplifting? Is this reflective of a new attitude toward the world? How?
16. Do you think Ben will find Crystal? What do you imagine their reunion would be like? 17. Why do you think the author chose to set the murders on a farm? What images and themes does the heartland and farming evoke?

18. Libby is a liar, a manipulator, a kleptomaniac, and an opportunist. Does she have any redeeming qualities? Are you able to empathize with her? If so, why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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