“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.”
This gripping opening line belongs to Gillain Flynn’s “Dark Places.” Even by the release of her second book, it was evident that Flynn is able to capture a side to femininity that most authors shy away from. The dark, hidden side. The side women do not want to admit they have.
Flynn’s three books, “Sharp Objects,” “Dark Places’” and “Gone Girl” all follow damaged and flawed female characters. While the women have varying degrees of unlikeability, each contains an honesty that is refreshing and a relatability that is frightening.
Trigger Warning: Flynn’s books discuss dark themes. Trigger warnings for self harm, animal cruelty, graphic violence, rape, child abuse, pedophila, drug abuse, and graphic sexaul content.
Spoiler Warning: While the endings of each book are not explicitly stated, there is discussion of specific events and plot twists.
To comprehend the complexity of Flynn’s characters, you must first understand their situations.
Sharp Objects,” Flynn’s first book, was released in 2006. It follows journalist Camille Preaker as she goes back to her small hometown to report on the deaths of two young girls.
While there, she stays in her childhood home with her verbally abusive mother and off-putting stepsister. The reader learns that Camille experienced traumatic events during her childhood that now cause her to cut words into her skin and drink more vodka than she should.
All the while, the pieces of the murder snap into place. But just as the reader thinks they see the whole picture, the truth is revealed in a gut-churning dramatic event that changes everything.
Following “Sharp Objects”, Flynn published “Dark Places” in 2009. The story is told through dual timelines. One follows troubled Libby Day in the present day. She is broke, lonely and desperate. The other reveals the events of “The Satan Sacrifice,” the murders of which seven-year-old Libby was the sole survivor.
Aided by Libby’s testimony, Libby’s fifteen-year-old brother was convicted of the crime and has been locked up ever since. Twenty-five years after the murders, Libby has no desire to relive that night until the Kill Club, a true crime club obsessed with her case, offers her money in return for assistance in reevaluating the case. Libby finds herself digging up the past and realizing the true events of that night may not be what she remembers.
Bestseller, “Gone Girl,” is Flynn’s most well-known book as it was turned into a block-buster movie starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in 2014. The story begins when ex-writer, Nick Dunne, discovers his wife, Amy, is missing. The couple’s house is a mess, there’s evidence of blood and Amy is nowhere to be found. The police, and the reader, turn their suspicions to Nick. That is until the reader learns Amy is alive. And she’s framing Nick for her murder.
All three of these stories center around a distinct female character. In most situations, each is frustrating and morally gray. They all commit heinous acts, treat loved ones terribly and constantly fall prey to their inner demons.
Flynn told Jessica M. Goldstein at “Marie Claire”, “Power can be bloody whether it’s a patriarchy or a matriarchy. It just happens to look different. But it doesn’t mean that just because women are in charge it’s going to be prettier.”
The traits which make Amy, Libby, and Camille unlikeable characters are also what make them perfectly realistic. They are not afraid to tell it like it is, which makes them magnetic to female readers because they manage to make statements women in the real world are too afraid to say.
Perhaps the most universal example is Amy’s cool girl monologue in “Gone Girl.” She rants, “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl… Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
In a rant that is often referred to as a modern take on feminism, Amy puts into words the thoughts and feelings of so many women. Her descriptions contain an aggression and vulgarity not commonly accepted of a “lady,” but this only makes the notion more authentic.
So next time you are feeling a raging anger at the world around you, pick up a Gillian Flynn book and let Amy, Libby and Camille show you that women can have a meanness inside them, and that is okay.