It probably was a little weird that read Gillian Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, right after finishing Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, since they’re both pretty dark books and what I wanted most after The Round House was a palate cleanser.But in some respects, Sharp Objects fits that bill since it’s an addictive, fast-paced story, but it’s equally as dark and even more twisted. I any case, I enjoyed the heck out of both these books!
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
I think the best thing I can say about The Round House is that when I got to the last page I immediately wanted to start it over again to see what I missed the first time around. The book is told from some future point where Joe is looking back on the summer his mother was raped, and this Future Joe makes lots of allusions or hints about what is to come that are cryptic and wonderful and beg to be revisited with the full weight of the story.
More broadly, I think what elevates The Round House above other literary fiction or literary thrillers is the connection to the social and legal issues at stake on a reservation. In particular, the legal loopholes that can exist when it’s not clear where a crime happened (reservation or not) seem so antiquated and insane, it’s impossible not to feel angry for Geraldine and Joe. The Round House was a deeply moving, dark, wonderful read.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.
NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.
HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.
In retrospect, it’s totally insane that I followed up The Round House with this book a couple days later, which is both dark and twisted. But it was a Friday night, I was exhausted, and I wanted a book that was engaging and short enough that I could just read it in one sitting. Sharp Objects fit that bill completely. I don’t think this one is as good as Gone Girl — it leans a little heavy on the crime and more lightly on the nuanced psychological drama — but you can see some of the themes about female power and manipulation in this one too. I’m weirdly looking forward to Dark Places to complete the Gillian Flynn trifecta.
Disclosure: I purchased my copy of Sharp Objects and checked out The Round House from my local library.