5. Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn is very skilled when it comes to writing unlikeable narrators. I’ve read the three novels she’s put out so far and I honestly did not like any of the narrators. I didn’t enjoy things they had to say or appreciate their actions and I came away from all three novels thinking I didn’t like the books entirely because of the unpleasant reading experience. Having read all three two years ago, and having enjoyed the film version of Gone Girl more so than the book (which I guess I’ll discuss whenever I get around to reviewing it…), I feel differently about Gillian Flynn’s work now. I think that she’s done something that’s important and maybe it should have been clearer to me while I was reading – but I was, like, paying attention to the story. At least, in the case of Dark Places, I think she succeeded in doing something important and successful with an unlikeable narrator – adding another woman to the pile of unlikeable narrators. If you can think of a whole pile of unlikeable, truly unlikeable the whole way through – not just a later-redeemed shrew character, women narrators throughout the literary canon then good for you; I can’t, and as a person who fully embraces the idea of being “gratuitously difficult” (hat tip Shirley Jackson) and has done some reading and reader’s advisory, I wish I could.
On some level I wish I could ignore more easily, social conditioning tells me that when a woman is unlikeable, I should write her off, perhaps as, in the case of Dark Places, damaged goods…clearly she cannot be functional or successful in any way, because she isn’t “nice” or “accommodating.” When a male character is unlikeable, he’s supposed to be translated as a bit of a rascal or someone who “gets things done” and doesn’t have time for pleasantries – which is bullshit. Both genders are capable of pleasantries and being accommodating and also being absolutely terrible or functional. I think that it’s very important to continue to add understanding and thorough consideration to our culture’s concept of women and becoming more and more familiar with women who are not in any way likeable is an excellent contribution to have for Gillian Flynn (especially since her books have sold so well).
I found Libby Day to be a sad, bitter character who responded to the terrifying events of her youth in a sad, bitter way. She had a false ambivalence that she used as a barrier and she made no apologies for how she chose to deal with her situation. I in no way would expect anything different of her, and yet, still don’t like her and I had very little sympathy for her. She made her choices and some of them were creepy- although as a fan of pop culture and some darker materials I could also understand why she would both loathe and need the groups who analyzed every minute detail of the crime and asked her to come and speak at their basement-conventions. Everything that wasn’t from her perspective made me want to continue reading and get through the story to find out who was ultimately responsible and what really happened surrounding the murder of her family.