Date Published: May 5, 2009
Book Author: Gillian Flynn
Summary reviewed by:
Bachelor of Arts (BA), University Of California, Santa Barbara 2019
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Welcome to “Dark Places,” set in a small, desolate, and grim Kansas countryside where shadows whisper secrets. The narrative of Gillian Flynn’s masterfully chilling novel darts between the present day and the tragic morning of January 2, 1985, which the townsfolk hauntingly call “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas. Meet our anti-heroine, Libby Day, a damaged, brittle woman who, as a seven-year-old, survived the brutal murder of her family; her mother and two sisters butchered by an unknown assailant. Libby’s testimony sends her teenage brother, Ben, to jail as the prime suspect, but is it really the truth?
As Libby, now in her thirties and cash-strapped, crosses paths with a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes, she is reluctantly thrust into an investigation of the night that forever stole her innocence. Libby unearths forgotten memories, confronts witnesses, and is led through the twisted labyrinth of her past. The narrative seamlessly alternates between the chilling countdown to the massacre and the present-day investigation.
The cast of deeply flawed characters is wrapped in layers of deception, and the sinister rural landscape serves as a backdrop to the bleak secrets that envelop the Day family. Flynn's razor-sharp prose and deft plotting will keep you on tenterhooks, questioning what is truth and what lurks in the dark places of the human psyche.
Spoilers (click here to reveal spoilers)
As the shadows recede, the chilling conclusion of “Dark Places” is unveiled. The innocent facade of Ben Day, imprisoned for over two decades, cracks open, but not for the reasons Libby initially believed. While he was involved in unsavory activities, Ben is not the family’s murderer.
Libby unearths the shocking revelation that her older sister, Diondra, pregnant with Ben's child, was the twisted mind behind the killings. The motive? To silence their younger sister who threatened to unveil Diondra’s dark secrets.
In a blood-curdling climax, Libby saves herself and Ben, ensuring that Diondra faces justice. After years of living under the weight of grief and blame, Libby finally sets the truth free and, in doing so, finds a sliver of redemption and closure.
Libby Day: A deeply traumatized, resourceful, and initially self-serving woman, who eventually displays strength in seeking the truth about her family’s massacre.
Ben Day: Libby’s brother, portrayed as a brooding, enigmatic figure, misunderstood and falsely accused. His loyalty to Diondra showcases his naivety.
Patty Day: The desperate yet determined mother of the Day family, willing to sacrifice everything to protect her children from poverty.
Diondra Wertzner: A manipulative and dark character, whose sociopathic tendencies unravel as the story progresses.
The Subjectivity of Memory: The book explores how memory can be manipulated and how the recollection of events changes over time, shown through Libby’s evolving understanding of the past.
The Destruction of Innocence: This theme is evident in the loss of innocence for the Day family children and the harsh realities they face.
Family Secrets and Dysfunction: The Day family harbors dark secrets and is fractured, portraying how internal turmoil can have devastating consequences.
Poverty and Desperation: The Day family’s financial struggles play a significant role in the tragic events, showcasing the lengths to which desperation can drive individuals.
The Quest for Redemption: Libby’s journey is one of seeking redemption for her part in her brother’s conviction and finding closure for her traumatic past.