The next "Gone Girl"?

There’s no doubt that Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl hit some kind of nerve. Like many good books, it wasn’t really discovered until it was about to be made into a movie -- but once that happened, it took off. People flocked to the movie theaters to discover what had happened to Amy Dunne, only to discover they might have been just a little happier not knowing.

Since the movie's release, each new crime thriller featuring a female protagonist (or perhaps antagonist is the better word) has proudly proclaimed itself to be “The Next Gone Girl.” The search for the same sort of complete surprise, shock and fear that Flynn managed to create in Gone Girl leads some to turn to her other books, rather than look at the other authors whose work has been compared.

For those searching for a similar movie, the August 7 release of Dark Places might stimulate some interest. Dark Places is a 2009 novel by Gillian Flynn. The movie stars Charlize Theron as Libby Day, a young woman who was orphaned at age seven when her two older sisters and mother were brutally murdered. Her brother, Ben Day (Tye Sheridan), was accused and convicted of the crime. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Ben's high school girlfriend, Diondra. 

Theron plays a grown-up Libby, who is now running out of the money donated to her by concerned citizens who saw her story in the tabloids. In an effort to raise funds (and continue to avoid getting a real job -- Libby Day is nothing if not a little haunted by her past), she agrees to help Lyle (Nicholas Hoult) and his band of would-be detectives as they revisit the case to determine if her brother truly is guilty.

While a comparison of the two movies would be impossible at this point, it is worth noting that as a book, Dark Places really has nothing on Gone Girl. Reading the two for comparison purposes, it’s easy to see why Gone Girl was the one that captured more national attention. Amy Dunne is a fascinating, deeply frightening character -- the equivalents in Dark Places never quite reach the same amount of complicated depth.

Dark Places, on its own, is a compelling thriller (I finished it in two days, though I’ve never been one to read a mystery novel slowly). What made Gone Girl so amazing was that it continued to surprise throughout -- Flynn’s ability to twist the truth and make future predictions almost impossible was impressive in that novel.

It’s worth noting that Dark Places was written earlier, and so the sophistication Flynn exhibits in her writing of Gone Girl is understandably missing in the 2009 novel. Its story is gripping, but somewhat more predictable and it reads like a more typical thriller novel. It’s good, but it’s not quite so shocking.

That said, there are certainly some fascinating literary devices at play in Dark Places. Perhaps most memorably is the use of the epigraph, claiming to be a schoolyard rhyme from the 1980s.

It reads:

The Days were a clan that mighta lived long

But Ben Day's head got screwed on wrong

That boy craved dark Satan's power

So he killed his family in one nasty hour

Little Michelle he strangled in the night

Then chopped up Debby: a bloody sight

Mother Patty he saved for last

Blew off her head with a shotgun blast

Baby Libby somehow survived

But to live through that ain't much a life.

                                                             Flynn Epigraph

It brings to mind real-life schoolyard rhymes like the one about Lizzie Borden (Lizzie Borden had an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks/When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41). With that as a starting point, Dark Places becomes a nice look into the real lives of the people whose stories become the darkest urban legends.

It’s a theme consistent throughout the book. Libby is featured in tabloid magazines across the country after her family’s death, and her testimony that convicts her brother of the crime. These features lead to mass amounts of donations being sent her way, but as she grows up, these donations dry up and it is not clear all the publicity was helpful overall.

Zealous fans of Serial might find their reflection in Hoult’s character, and his friends in the “Kill Club.” Obsessed with various murders, the group goes around investigating these cases, especially when they believe the convicted person might be innocent. That said, they don’t necessarily fall in line with something like the Innocence Project -- it’s more of a hobby than an actual legal battle.

Dark Places has a lot of fodder in it to make an interesting movie, and it will be fun to see if the movie receives the same sort of status as its sister Gone Girl. Based on the book, it does not seem terrifically likely -- but it should be an enjoyable thriller regardless.


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