Archive for the ‘dysfunctional family’ Tag

Cutting Edge Suspense   Leave a comment


Gillian Flynn writes books that are hard to put down filled with characters that are even harder to enjoy – or forget. Like her wildly popular recent work Gone Girl, Flynn’s 2006 debut novel, Sharp Objects, is full of dysfunctional relationships and twisted back stories; imagine Mommie Dearest meets Mean Girls.

Sharp Objects is immediately engaging: Camille Preaker, a third-rate newspaper reporter at an equally-lackluster Chicago newspaper, is sent to her hometown in rural Missouri to investigate the murder of two preteen girls. Camille’s self-deprecating manner initially creates empathy. It’s enhanced, for a short time, by the strained connection she has with her cold, distant mother, Adora. Slowly, the murders become background material as Camille’s childhood, and how she relates to them, comes to the forefront.

Adora lacks maternal instinct, and Camille’s approach to dealing with the emotional damage inflicted by her mother is as far from healthy as Neptune is from earth. In fact, Adora, unapologetically voices her disdain for Camille. In addition to Adora and Camille, the novel features a range of characters affected by the murders, and no one emerges kindly. The degree to which they are disturbed is varied and this is what helps make the book so compelling.

This who-dunnit is very creepy. The list of possibilities is short, so when the culprit is revealed, it’s not surprising just jarring. What’s most unexpected is the number of clues Flynn provides about Camille’s and the town’s secrets; those are much more difficult to anticipate.

Sharp Objects
Four Bookmarks
Three Rivers Press, 2006
254 pages

Allegory Wrestling   Leave a comment

What begins campy and comic book-like soon assumes a more serious tone about
familial dysfunction in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! This enigmatic coming-of-
age story is set in Florida’s Everglades, where the harsh environment is full of danger-
ous creatures and rich in bittersweet memories for the Bigtree family.

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree is the narrator for most of the novel; when the setting
switches to the nearby coastal town of Loomis, Russell narrates. Swamplandia! is the
name of the Bigtree family’s alligator theme park. When Ava’s mother, the main attract-
ion as an alligator wrestler, dies, the family disintegrates. Ava’s 16-year-old sister is in
love with a ghost; Kiwi, the older brother, leaves to work at the competing theme park
in Loomis; and Chief, the children’s father, leaves Swamplandia to look, he says, for
funding. Through most of the novel, Ava is the most level-headed, so when she shows
her age, it’s a good thing for the reader, but not so much for Ava.

This is one whopper of a tale, but Russell creates complex characters facing difficult
issues in their lives, not the least of which is dealing with the mother’s death. The back-
drop of the theme park and alligators provides some levity on one hand and heavy-duty
allegory on the other. Russell’s beautifully-written descriptions and sentence structure
are captivating. There are some laugh-out-loud moments countered by creepy events.
Several times I considered closing the book to stop what was likely to happen, but
needed to keep reading just in case I was wrong.

Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
316 pages