16 June 2012

Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn)

How Great Sharp Objects Is, Part 1: had to dose myself with Nyquil after reading it all evening, to keep myself from staying up till 4 a.m. to finish.

How Great Sharp Objects Is, Part 2: fifteen pages from the end the next day, I took the local rather than the express on my commute home so's not to be interrupted. And luckily I finished while still on the train, or I'd have taken a page from my constantly-bruised childhood and read it while walking.

Camille Preaker, a reporter at a second-rate Chicago newspaper, reluctantly returns to her Missouri hometown to scoop the story of two dead little girls, found strangled a year apart, all their teeth removed. It becomes quickly obvious why she's stayed away: her cold and passive-aggressive mother, Adora, is the proverbial piece of work, and Camille's thirteen-year-old half-sister, Amma, walks the line between pampered child and drugged-up Lolita with glee. Camille herself is far from unscathed, but she wears her scars on the outside as well--for over a decade she carved words into her flesh, an obsessive chronicle of pain and self-loathing.

Sharp Objects is best read in a few gulps, but you'll need a strong stomach: though there's no supernatural element, it shades into sheer horror, as Flynn dials up the dysfunction and malignancy possible in relationships between women--mothers, daughters, sisters, friends--to a fever pitch. This is part of why I loved it, I think, that's it's such a deliberate, unusual exploration of uniquely feminine damage, both suffered and inflicted. My favorite lines sum it up better than I can:
Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.

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