I have now officially read all three Gillian Flynn novels published so far. (Doffs cap for applause.) Thank you, thank you.
Sharp Objects was, I believe, her first novel, and I'll start out by saying that while it's readable and engrossing, it's not as good as her others. Dark Places is, I think, by far the best, though Gone Girl takes the prize for wildest reveal and messed-uppest characters.
I feel like I'm starting with the bad news, but really, I guess that's because it's not very bad. I mean, the fact that her other books were better doesn't make this book anything but good. As with the others, the hardest part is the sheer unpleasantness that Flynn is so good at--discomfort and ugliness, pathos and awkwardness.
Camille has escaped the one-horse town of Wind Gap where she grew up miserable, and now she's a journalist in Chicago--if not successful, then at least working. But now two little girls have been murdered in that tiny town, and Camille has been sent to report on it. This puts her face to face with high school frienemies, her estranged mother, and a decades-younger sister she barely knows. Camille's investigation of the murders and her involvement with one of the detectives parallels her growing tension with her family and her inability to hold it together.
Camille is not a healthy person, in about a million ways, but she's a great protagonist. She's such a mess; she vacillates between going along with whatever she's pointed at and fighting against everyone around her. She's hurting all the time, but she doesn't complain about it; you can just feel it come off the page in her drinking, in her bad choices, and even in her determined attempts to do her job and solve the murders.
The town is almost unbelievably oppressive, between the dead-end jobs, the horrifying hog-slaughter plant, various gaggles of frenemies, and Camille's bizarre family, who if I had read Faulkner I would probably call Faulknerian. A distant, prim father figure, an ultra-feminine mother who alternates between distant and doting, and a spoiled child who demands to be petted and drinks too much. It's a strange, ugly story--almost too ugly, and almost too obvious in its ugliness.
But Camille, who's trying so hard, even when she doesn't know how to do more than get out of bed in the morning, is the right protagonist for this place. You can see how she came from here, and how in a horrible way she belongs here, but you want her to get out so badly. Only in this book could I root for Camille.
So, what do I think of Gillian Flynn's third best book? Mostly it makes me desperately want her next book to come out, because even with its flaws, I want more. That counts very much as a thumbs up.