Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: A Review

>A patriarchal system invests men with the duty to talk and think about serious issues, while women are expected to dedicate their lives to trivialities. We can still see this set of expectations at work on a daily basis. During parties, men talk about politics, philosophy, and the meaning of life, while women are huddled together on the other side of the room, swapping muffin recipes. In class, female students rarely dare to offer their opinions on big-picture questions. They leave such questions to men and dedicate themselves to answering questions  that are detail-oriented. I always know that when I ask “Is Hugo Chavez good for Venezuela?”, I will get no female responses. But if I ask “When did Chavez come to power?”, many female students will offer an answer. This doesn’t happen because women are less capable of or less interested in analyzing serious issues. For the longest time, any woman who attempted to leave the realm of muffin-baking and affirm herself in the public sphere was castigated. This is why it is still difficult for women to believe that the sphere of great endeavors and important issues is just as much theirs as men’s.

The saddest thing to observe is when this happens in the realm of creative activities. Often, incredibly talented women seem not to dare to enter the world of art and assert themselves there. They prefer to limit themselves to secondary genres and pretty much waste their creative gift on producing works of art that manage to entertain but are never taken seriously.

Gillian Flynn is a perfect example of such a female writer. From the first paragraphs of her novel  Dark Places, it is obvious that she is an extremely talented author. Flynn writes with incredible poignancy about life on a small Kansas farm nearing bankruptcy, about the tragedy of being a teenager in rural America, about the horrible burden of childhood trauma, about the damage caused by the purity movement. Her mastery of the English language is breathtaking. Dark Places: A Novel could be a great work of literature but for one thing.

As many other female writers, Flynn unfortunately shies away from creating art. She follows in the footsteps of such talented writers as Ruth Rendell and PD James and confines herself to the realm of mystery novel. She takes what could have been a great novel and adds some mystery genre devices that are boring, conventional, and that feel completely alien to the main body of  Dark Places: A Novel. She still doesn’t manage to kill the novel completely. Everything but the last couple of chapters is truly fantastic. I would even recommend stopping reading the book 20-25 pages before it ends to avoid spoiling your experience of the novel.

Flynn is a great writer in the making. I truly hope that she will lose her fear of competing in the big leagues and will allow her creative gift to unfold without being fettered by these conventional limitations that plague so meny female writers.