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Sharp Objects: A Novel

by

Sharp Objects: A Novel Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

My sweater was new, stinging red and ugly. It was May 12 but the temperature had dipped to the forties, and after four days shivering in my shirtsleeves, I grabbed cover at a tag sale rather than dig through my boxed-up winter clothes. Spring in Chicago.

In my gunny-covered cubicle I sat staring at the computer screen. My story for the day was a limp sort of evil. Four kids, ages two through six, were found locked in a room on the South Side with a couple of tuna sandwiches and a quart of milk. They'd been left three days, flurrying like chickens over the food and feces on the carpet. Their mother had wandered off for a suck on the pipe and just forgotten. Sometimes that's what happens. No cigarette burns, no bone snaps. Just an irretrievable slipping. I'd seen the mother after the arrest: twenty-two-year-old Tammy Davis, blonde and fat, with pink rouge on her cheeks in two perfect circles the size of shot glasses. I could imagine her sitting on a shambled-down sofa, her lips on that metal, a sharp burst of smoke. Then all was fast floating, her kids way behind, as she shot back to junior high, when the boys still cared and she was the prettiest, a glossy-lipped thirteen-year-old who mouthed cinnamon sticks before she kissed.

A belly. A smell. Cigarettes and old coffee. My editor, esteemed, weary Frank Curry, rocking back in his cracked Hush Puppies. His teeth soaked in brown tobacco saliva.

"Where are you on the story, kiddo?" There was a silver tack on my desk, point up. He pushed it lightly under a yellow thumbnail.

"Near done." I had two inches of copy. I needed six.

"Good. Fuck her, file it, and come to my office."

"I can come now."

"Fuck her, file it, then come to my office."

"Fine. Ten minutes." I wanted my thumbtack back.

He started out of my cubicle. His tie swayed down near his crotch.

"Preaker?"

"Yes, Curry?"

"Fuck her."

Frank Curry thinks I'm a soft touch. Might be because I'm a woman. Might be because I'm a soft touch.

Curry's office is on the third floor. I'm sure he gets panicky-pissed every time he looks out the window and sees the trunk of a tree. Good editors don't see bark; they see leaves--if they can even make out trees from up on the twentieth, thirtieth floor. But for the Daily Post, fourth-largest paper in Chicago, relegated to the suburbs, there's room to sprawl. Three floors will do, spreading relentlessly outward, like a spill, unnoticed among the carpet retailers and lamp shops. A corporate developer produced our township over three well-organized years--1961-64--then named it after his daughter, who'd suffered a serious equestrian accident a month before the job was finished. Aurora Springs, he ordered, pausing for a photo by a brand-new city sign. Then he took his family and left. The daughter, now in her fifties and fine except for an occasional tingling in her arms, lives in Arizona and returns every few years to take a photo by her namesake sign, just like Pop.

I wrote the story on her last visit. Curry hated it, hates most slice-of-life pieces. He got smashed off old Chambord while he read it, left my copy smelling like raspberries. Curry gets drunk fairly quietly, but often. It's not the reason, though, that he has such a cozy view of the ground. That's just yawing bad luck.

I walked in and shut the door to his office, which isn't how I'd ever imagined my editor's office would look. I craved big oak panels, a window pane in the door--marked Chief--so the cub reporters could watch us rage over First Amendment rights. Curry's office is bland and institutional, like the rest of the building. You could debate journalism or get a Pap smear. No one cared.

"Tell me about Wind Gap." Curry held the tip of a ballpoint pen at his grizzled chin. I could picture the tiny prick of blue it would leave among the stubble.

"It's at the very bottom of Missouri, in the boot heel. Spitting distance from Tennessee and Arkansas," I said, hustling for my facts. Curry loved to drill reporters on any topics he deemed pertinent--the number of murders in Chicago last year, the demographics for Cook County, or, for some reason, the story of my hometown, a topic I preferred to avoid. "It's been around since before the Civil War," I continued. "It's near the Mississippi, so it was a port city at one point. Now its biggest business is hog butchering. About two thousand people live there. Old money and trash."

"Which are you?"

"I'm trash. From old money." I smiled. He frowned.

"And what the hell is going on?"

I sat silent, cataloguing various disasters that might have befallen Wind Gap. It's one of those crummy towns prone to misery: A bus collision or a twister. An explosion at the silo or a toddler down a well. I was also sulking a bit. I'd hoped--as I always do when Curry calls me into his office--that he was going to compliment me on a recent piece, promote me to a better beat, hell, slide over a slip of paper with a 1 percent raise scrawled on it--but I was unprepared to chat about current events in Wind Gap.

"Your mom's still there, right, Preaker?"

"Mom. Stepdad." A half sister born when I was in college, her existence so unreal to me I often forgot her name. Amma. And then Marian, always long-gone Marian.

"Well dammit, you ever talk to them?" Not since Christmas: a chilly, polite call after administering three bourbons. I'd worried my mother could smell it through the phone lines.

"Not lately."

"Jesus Christ, Preaker, read the wires sometime. I guess there was a murder last August? Little girl strangled?"

I nodded like I knew. I was lying. My mother was the only person in Wind Gap with whom I had even a limited connection, and she'd said nothing. Curious.

"Now another one's missing. Sounds like it might be a serial to me. Drive down there and get me the story. Go quick. Be there tomorrow morning."

No way. "We got horror stories here, Curry."

"Yeah, and we also got three competing papers with twice the staff and cash." He ran a hand through his hair, which fell into frazzled spikes. "I'm sick of getting slammed out of news. This is our chance to break something. Big."

Curry believes with just the right story, we'd become the overnight paper of choice in Chicago, gain national credibility. Last year another paper, not us, sent a writer to his hometown somewhere in Texas after a group of teens drowned in the spring floods. He wrote an elegiac but well-reported piece on the nature of water and regret, covered everything from the boys' basketball team, which lost its three best players, to the local funeral home, which was desperately unskilled in cleaning up drowned corpses. The story won a Pulitzer.

I still didn't want to go. So much so, apparently, that I'd wrapped my hands around the arms of my chair, as if Curry might try to pry me out. He sat and stared at me a few beats with his watery hazel eyes. He cleared his throat, looked at his photo of his wife, and smiled like he was a doctor about to break bad news. Curry loved to bark--it fit his old-school image of an editor--but he was also one of the most decent people I knew.

"Look, kiddo, if you can't do this, you can't do it. But I think it might be good for you. Flush some stuff out. Get you back on your feet. It's a damn good story--we need it. You need it."

Curry had always backed me. He thought I'd be his best reporter, said I had a surprising mind. In my two years on the job I'd consistently fallen short of expectations. Sometimes strikingly. Now I could feel him across the desk, urging me to give him a little faith. I nodded in what I hoped was a confident fashion.

"I'll go pack." My hands left sweatprints on the chair.

I had no pets to worry about, no plants to leave with a neighbor. Into a duffel bag, I tucked away enough clothes to last me five days, my own reassurance I'd be out of Wind Gap before week's end. As I took a final glance around my place, it revealed itself to me in a rush. The apartment looked like a college kid's: cheap, transitory, and mostly uninspired. I promised myself I'd invest in a decent sofa when I returned as a reward for the stunning story I was sure to dig up.

On the table by the door sat a photo of a preteen me holding Marian at about age seven. We're both laughing. She has her eyes wide open in surprise, I have mine scrunched shut. I'm squeezing her into me, her short skinny legs dangling over my knees. I can't remember the occasion or what we were laughing about. Over the years it's become a pleasant mystery. I think I like not knowing.

I take baths. Not showers. I can't handle the spray, it gets my skin buzzing, like someone's turned on a switch. So I wadded a flimsy motel towel over the grate in the shower floor, aimed the nozzle at the wall, and sat in the three inches of water that pooled in the stall. Someone else's pubic hair floated by.

I got out. No second towel, so I ran to my bed and blotted myself with the cheap spongy blanket. Then I drank warm bourbon and cursed the ice machine.

Wind Gap is about eleven hours south of Chicago. Curry had graciously allowed me a budget for one night's motel stay and breakfast in the morning, if I ate at a gas station. But once I got in town, I was staying at my mother's. That he decided for me. I already knew the reaction I'd get when I showed up at her door. A quick, shocked flustering, her hand to her hair, a mismatched hug that would leave me aimed slightly to one side. Talk of the messy house, which wouldn't be. A query about length of stay packaged in niceties.

"How long do we get to have you for, sweetness?" she'd say. Which meant: "When do you leave?"

It's the politeness that I find most upsetting.

I knew I should prepare my notes, jot down questions. Instead I drank more bourbon, then popped some aspirin, turned off the light. Lulled by the wet purr of the air conditioner and the electric plinking of some video game next door, I fell asleep. I was only thirty miles outside my hometown, but I needed one last night away.

In the morning I inhaled an old jelly doughnut and headed south, the temperature shooting up, the lush forest imposing on both sides. This part of Missouri isn't quite mountainous, but the hills are massive, like giant rolling swells. Hitting a summit, I could see miles of fat, hardy trees broken only by the thin strip of highway I was on.

You can't spot Wind Gap from a distance; its tallest building is only three stories. But after twenty minutes of driving, I knew it was coming: First a gas station popped up. A group of scraggly teenage boys sat out front, barechested and bored. Near an old pickup, a diapered toddler threw fistfuls of gravel in the air as his mother filled up the tank. Her hair was dyed gold, but her brown roots reached almost to her ears. She yelled something to the boys I couldn't make out as I passed. Soon after, the forest began to thin. I passed a scribble of a strip mall with tanning beds, a gun shop, a drapery store. Then came a lonely cul-de-sac of old houses, meant to be part of a development that never happened. And finally, town proper.

For no good reason, I held my breath as I passed the sign welcoming me to Wind Gap, the way kids do when they drive by cemeteries. It had been eight years since I'd been back, but the scenery was visceral. Head down that road, and I'd find the home of my grade-school piano teacher, a former nun whose breath smelled of eggs. That path led to a tiny park where I smoked my first cigarette on a sweaty summer day. Take that boulevard, and I'd be on my way to Woodberry, and the hospital.

I decided to head directly to the police station. It squatted at one end of Main Street, which is, true to its word, Wind Gap's main street. On Main Street you will find a beauty parlor and a hardware store, a five-and-dime called Five-and-Dime, and a library twelve shelves deep. You'll find a clothing store called Candy's Casuals, in which you may buy jumpers, turtlenecks, and sweaters that have ducks and schoolhouses on them. Most nice women in Wind Gap are teachers or mothers or work at places like Candy's Casuals. In a few years you may find a Starbucks, which will bring the town what it yearns for: prepackaged, preapproved mainstream hipness. For now, though, there's just a greasy spoon, which is run by a family whose name I can't remember.

Main Street was empty. No cars, no people. A dog loped down the sidewalk, with no owner calling after it. All the lampposts were papered with yellow ribbons and grainy photocopies of a little girl. I parked and peeled off one of the notices, taped crookedly to a stop sign at a child's height. The sign was homemade, "Missing," written at the top in bold letters that may have been filled in by Magic Marker. The photo showed a dark-eyed girl with a feral grin and too much hair for her head. The kind of girl who'd be described by teachers as a "handful." I liked her.

Natalie Jane Keene

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

Sheila Deeth, April 4, 2014 (view all comments by Sheila Deeth)
Sharp objects cut, hurt and wound. Gillian Flynn’s novel, Sharp Objects, is no exception. It’s filled with dark, disturbing images, cruel memories, and layers of pain. It invites the reader into the mind of a young woman trying to rebuild her life, and in so doing, it slowly reveals how her life was broken. All this is done with stark, convincing prose, as newspaper reporter Camille Preaker returns to her home town, assigned to produce a few simple pieces about the family of a missing girl.

Of course, going home is never simple, especially when that home drove you to need psychiatric help. And revisiting the scene of her misery doesn’t offer the sort of healing Camille will need. Caught between the call of adult sanity and teen surrender, struggling against the lure of drugs, sex and alcohol, longing for the acceptance and love she’s missed, and desperate to help her sister escape the cycle of destruction, Camille walks a path filled of clever deduction, hopeless quests, and wounded memories. Meanwhile the author offers classically powerful descriptions of people and place, shadowed by what’s guessed, implied, kept hidden and eventually revealed.

Sharp Objects is a sharply observed tale of modern-day evil, told with a reporter’s strengths, a wounded woman’s weaknesses, and a heart for hope. It’s not an easy read. It’s graphic and its words cut and wound. But it’s beautifully told, and ultimately offers the promise that healing might be real.

Disclosure: I wanted to read something by Gillian Flynn and this was the book I chose to get for my birthday
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techeditor, February 12, 2013 (view all comments by techeditor)
Thanks to readingitforward.com, SHARP OBJECTS is the second book by Gillian Flynn that I've read. On the basis of having now read both this book and GONE GIRL, it appears to me that Flynn likes deeply flawed characters with psychological problems who have dysfunctional families. In SHARP OBJECTS, it seems EVERY character has flaws and at least one phychological problem. But the main character, Camille Preaker, beats them all.

Preaker comes back to the small town where she grew up to report on a double murder there for the Chicago newspaper she works for. It seems everything she does involves alcohol. She drinks so much that it is unbelievable she can accomplish her investigative reporting duties. But investigate she does, always one step behind her policeman friend, Richard. And boy does she drink all the while!

But the drinking isn't as bad as the cutting, I guess.

While visiting her home town, Preaker stays with her mother, stepfather, and 13-year-old half sister. Here lies SHARP OBJECT's greatest mystery. It is Flynn's trick to make you make you feel undecided about these people throughout the book. Although it's easy to see they're dysfunctional, you won't know their true selves until the end. Please don't let any other book review tell you more about them and spoil that for you.

That's as close to story summary as you'll get from me. I won't spoil it for you, as so many book reviews on the Internet have done to me.
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Gracie, September 4, 2012 (view all comments by Gracie)
Gillian Flynn has an uncanny aptitude for writing about dark, disturbing things happening underneath a facade of normalcy. In Sharp Objects, she brings the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to life, and at first glance it seems an ordinary, quiet place where everybody knows everybody. But it has seen two children murdered, and the police are at a loss. No one can believe it was someone in the community who did it.

Camille Preaker grew up in Wind Gap and left as soon as she was able. She isn't just haunted by her past there, she's damaged, scarred, and lives with it every day. She's carved words into her skin since she was thirteen, and the scars throb with meaning. Wind Gap is where she started cutting, it's where her sister Marion died, it's where her cold mother, Adora; stepfather, Alan; and half-sister, Amma, live in a mansion on the hill. The last thing Camille would ever want to do is go back. But that's exactly what her boss tells her to do. She's a journalist with an inside track on the town, so who better to cover the story of the two dead girls?

It's not exactly a cheeful homecoming. The police aren't forthcoming and the case seems to be going nowhere. Camille isn't getting far, and spending time with her family doesn't go well. Adora's ideas of how things should be don't conform well with reality. She wants to dote on her children, the way she did sickly Marion, and for that to happen, those children need to be compliant and sick. Alan doesn't really have ideas and is little more than a ghostly presence in the house backing up Adora. Amma's ideas of how things should be mean that at thirteen she knows how to manipulate people; she plays with her dollhouse at home and rules over her contemporaries, drinks, takes drugs, and has sex when she's out with her friends.

Camille has difficulty navigating through both the case and her family. Vodka, burbon, and sleeping with the detective called in on the case can only do so much. And as the case and Camille's family come together, things only get worse. Secrets, some long-buried, some fresh, but all calculated and violent, come out with widespread consequences.

The book then haunts you when it's over. The characters linger. They seem so real, so incredibly screwed up, and their lives echo for a bit until you can pull yourself out of that place and back into the world.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307341556
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Flynn, Gillian
Author:
Gillian Flynn
Publisher:
Broadway Books
Subject:
Thrillers
Subject:
Psychological
Subject:
Women journalists
Subject:
Missouri
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
Suspense fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Suspense
Subject:
Mystery & Detective - General
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Reissue ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
July 2007
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
1072
Dimensions:
12 x 9 x 5.5 in 7.7 lb
Age Level:
10<br><br> Missing since 5/12<br><br> Last seen

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Sharp Objects: A Novel Used Trade Paper
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Product details 1072 pages Broadway Books - English 9780307341556 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Gillian Flynn's debut novel is a literary thriller that will shock and repulse you, even as it draws you inexorably into its tangled, sadistic web of deceit, secrets, and horrific revelations. With her vivid characters and sharp-edged dialogue, Flynn is a writer to watch!

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Flynn's debut novel focuses on an emotionally fragile young woman whose sanity is being severely tested by family dysfunction, smalltown incivility and murder. It is a mesmerizing psychological thriller that is also quite disturbing and, thanks to reader Lee's chillingly effective rendition, at times almost unbearably so. Camille Preaker, a novice reporter with a history of self-mutilation, is sent to her hometown in Missouri to cover the murder of one teenage girl and the disappearance of another. There, she must face a variety of monsters from the past and the present, including her aloof and patronizing mother, her obnoxiously precocious 13-year-old stepsister who dabbles in drugs, sex and humiliation, and an unknown serial killer whose mutilated victims bring back haunting memories. Lee's interpretation of mom enhances the character's detachment and airy state of denial to an infuriating degree. And her abrupt change of pace when Camille suddenly begins chanting the words carved on her body is hair-raising. But the voice Lee gives to the stepsister — tinged with a sarcastic, cynical and downright evil girly singsong — makes one's blood run cold. Simultaneous release with the Shaye Areheart hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 21). (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Wallowing in the misery, dysfunction, backstabbing, casual sexual exploitation, and rampant pettiness of small-town life is the strongest part of the narrative. I wonder if Sharp Objects might have worked better as a pitch-black comedy, or as a thriller without the mystery trappings. Flynn seems to have invested so much energy in making her main character live and breathe, neuroses fully ablaze, that she neglected to craft a formidable mystery." (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , "More in the tradition of Joyce Carol Oates than Agatha Christie, this one will leave readers profoundly disturbed. But from the first line...you know you're in the hands of a talented and accomplished writer."
"Review" by , "Darkly original....Flynn expertly ratchets up the suspense....A disturbing yet riveting tale."
"Review" by , "A first novel that reads like the accomplished work of a long-time pro, the book draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction....All in all, a terrific debut."
"Review" by , "A tense, irresistable thriller....Flynn's first-person narration is pitch-perfect, but even more impressive is the way she orchestrates the slim novel's onrushing tension toward a heart-stopping climax."
"Review" by , "To loathe one's home town is a venerable literary tradition, but I can't think of another novel that has painted a more scathing, over-the-top portrait of small-town America....Flynn generates suspense over who killed the two little girls."
"Review" by , "Flynn delivers a great whodunit, replete with hinting details, telling dialogue, dissembling clues....Piercingly effective and genuinely terrifying."
"Review" by , "This impressive debut novel is fueled by stylish writing and compelling portraits of desperate housewives, southern style....A stylish turn on dark crimes and even darker psyches."
"Review" by , "To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild....Sharp Objects isn't one of those scare-and-retreat books; its effect is cumulative. I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights were out, the story just stayed there in my head, coiled and hissing, like a snake in a cave. An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights."
"Review" by , "[F]irst-time novelist Flynn expertly divulges [a] tale reminiscent of the works of Shirley Jackson....Highly recommended."
"Synopsis" by , After eight years, the murders of two preteen girls — timed nearly a year apart — bring reporter Camille Preaker reluctantly back to her hometown. As she works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, Camille finds herself forced to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past.
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