I love stories with strong female characters – and when I say strong, I don’t mean good. The idea that women are inherently soft, nurturing and virtuous is overused and, frankly, boring. I want tales of unsympathetic, complicated, selfish and destructive women.
So when I found the trailer of “Sharp Objects”, the HBO series released on July 8th, starring Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, I could not resist. After watching the first two episodes, I immediately ordered the book, written by Gillian Flynn. I read it in two days, and have been tuning in every Sunday for the TV show adaptation.
Trigger warning: the story touches on particularly difficult topics, such as sexual assault, abusive relationships, and self-harm.
The book follows Camille Preaker, a journalist who has been assigned to cover a murder and kidnapping case in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. Quickly, we discover that Camille is an alcoholic and practices self-harm. Coming home, she reconnects with her mother, Adora, and half-sister, Amma. Gradually, her relationship with her family deteriorates and her sanity declines. She identifies strongly with the two young murder victims, Ann and Natalie, because of their tomboy natures. We follow her investigation, alongside the police, to unravel the mystery and face the demons in her past.
Wind Gap, the town, is a character in itself. Filled with strange figures and local folklore, it’s a disturbing display of poverty and countryside mentalities in the United States. Patriarchy structures everyday life, from the day a girl is born, her role as a wife and mother later in life, to her death. A passage that made it so clear is the letter written by the victim’s mother and read during her funeral:
“Your father will not walk you down the aisle. Your brother will never be an uncle“.
Undeniably, “Sharp Objects” is a story about women. The rules they must respect. The power they bear in small towns. The resilience and hope of teenage girls, contrasted with the desperate control and manipulation performed by elder women. Gillian Flynn highlights the shame associated with sexual endeavors, reflected in the words Camille carves on her own body: “baby-doll“, “wicked“, “punish“, “cunt“. This excerpt of the book reflects the widespread belief of inherent darkness spreading inside women:
“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. Not surprising, considering the sheer amount of traffic a woman’s body experiences. Tampons and speculums. Cocks, fingers, vibrators and more, between the legs, from behind, in the mouth. Men love to put things inside women, don’t they?”
There is a chilling and uncomfortable feeling to this story. Reading it made me uneasy, but I could not bear to put the book down. I needed to know. There is no safe place and no escape from Wind Gap – only darkness. Gillian Flynn is wonderful in the description of fascinating characters that you won’t soon, if ever, forget.
Are you watching “Sharp Objects” on HBO right now? The last episode was insanely good. I can’t get enough of Amy Adams’ performance!
The book is available on Amazon here.