Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn’s debut feature is an agonizingly unsettling book. It forays deep into the nature of inherited trauma and derisive family dynamics. The aural dreamlike undercurrent of desolation running through this arresting psychological-thriller builds up an ever-festering sense of dread that pervades all your extremities.
Camille Preaker, the protagonist of the story, is besieged by the devastating loss of her sister, Miriam. The ashen specter of childhood memories gone astray haunt her. With literal wounds on her flesh, she is a recovering ‘cutter’ who etched words on her body – a withering soul’s release of angst – to mask and mark her trauma.
Having once cut off her toxic environment, she is sent back into the cauldron as a reporter to cover the gruelling murders of two pre-teen girls. You know, just your usual American tragedy to be enjoyed with coffee over breakfast. Once again, she finds herself deep in the rotten chasms of the town and her own fragile mind eager to tear her asunder. Plunges into the pitiless pits of alcoholism get exacerbated by her mother Adora, the presiding gentry’s matriarchal figure.
Passive-aggressive Southern moms are no joke.
Her thirteen-year-old half-sister, ’a child weaned on poison,’ is a mural of personalities – one minute a leggy Lolita by the pool, the next an infantile choir girl. In the former guise, she has a strangling grip over all of the town’s cobwebs of misery.
Flynn conjures up a bleak world of Missourian madness swarming with death, macabre and everything in between. Thoughtless trains of the foolish, and the fictional city of Windgap, are basically synonyms.
The author has long loathed this idea that ‘women are innately good, innately nurturing’ and bewailed ‘the spunky heroines’ and ‘dismissably bad tramps and vamps’ taking over so much of contemporary fiction. She subverts the literary paradigms of strong women characters where the only major personality trait they have is built around dogmatic gender roles, by recognizing their proclivity to be ‘pragmatically evil, bad, and selfish’.
For instance, Camille’s winsomeness typically straddles the ideals of a temptress or an angel, but she is neither. The deeper she delves into the gory labyrinths of mystery by navigating the riptides of Windgap, the deeper she falls into the cesspool of her own scarred past.
All these baroque pieces of Flynn’s boorish nightmare, with a tinge of ghoulish elements, could have easily been bogged down to edgy caricatures, but they are written with an admirable sense of ugliness – not in a hideous sort of way. Rather, the howling obfuscation of a bad fever dream. A long night’s sleep that turns into a rotten stupor. Stifled, ghastly and tattered.
This part Southern-Gothic thriller, bubbling with Hitchcockian motifs, is a sordid tale entailing the worst of human frailties. At times, Flynn suffers the same slip up that has been a common feature for young writers – poor figurative writing, but her dark yet evocative prose in the tradition of Shirley Temple more than balances the scale in her favour.
It is the kind of book you would want to read marooned on a warm summer afternoon under the soft embrace of the Sun because of how visceral and harrowing it tends to get. If you’re not fond of literature that disturbs you on a psychological level and keeps you awake in the dying embers of twilight hours – sane people usually aren’t – then pack your bags and off you go!
Naman is a staff reporter for the Woodstocker
Edited by Jinho Yoon