(Just like anyone else who is a lover of great books, we at CCLaP find ourselves sometimes with a desire to become a "completist" of certain authors; that is, to have read every book that author has ever written. This series of essays chronicles that attempt. Don't forget, a list of all the other books reviewed as part of this series can be found on CCLaP's main book review page.)
Sharp Objects (2006)
By Gillian Flynn
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
After reading Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl several years ago and loving it so much, I decided to read her other two books to see if they were just as good; I actually started with her second novel, Dark Places, since someone was in the middle of doing a film adaptation at the time and I wanted to have read the book before seeing the movie, and then just this week I finally got around to reading her first-ever book, 2006's Sharp Objects. And in a way you can tell it's a first novel, because there's simply not a lot to it when it comes to plot and storyline, a big factor of success when it comes to genre novels like crime; although ostensibly it's about the hunt for a serial killer who has now murdered two little girls in a small Missouri town in particularly gruesome ways, no actual crimes take place over the course of the book's actual running time, no actual detective work takes place (we go straight from knowing nothing about the killer to knowing the killer's identity, with no steps in between), and unusually for me, I accidentally guessed who the killer was a mere 50 pages into the novel, meaning that it will be super-easy to guess for readers who are bigger crime fans than me.
But all that said, though, it's undeniable that Flynn writes some of the most compelling character studies in the entirety of the crime genre, the thing that she really excels at and that makes her books so memorable, a woman who is nearly as good at Patricia Highsmith herself at putting the "deep" into "deeply flawed protagonists;" and that's especially on display in a slow-moving story like this one, where the point is not really to figure out "who done it" (like I said, that should be pretty obvious to most people fairly early into the story), but rather "why they done it" and "what the hell is wrong with them in the first place." A "feminist writer" in the sense that she takes a nuanced look at the various dysfunctions that particularly affect women specifically, that's on display just as much here in her first novel as it is in the much more famous Gone Girl (a book whose very popularity is based on this concept); and while it's not nearly as thrilling as her other two books, Sharp Objects was certainly a worthwhile read that I tore through quickly, a novel better thought of as an atmospheric noir with crime-story elements than a crime story per se. It comes as strongly recommended as her other two books; and for a special treat, if you're new to this devastatingly dark and subversive writer, do yourself a favor and read all three of her books in chronological order, one right after the other in a row.