“Sharp Objects” reveals where women keep their pain

Photo courtesy of Book of the Month

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger

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In Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, evil, as well as the stifling places where the midwest and the south intersect, is more clearly showcased than perhaps ever before. Camille Preaker, a thirty-something journalist, returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate a series of disturbing murders; preteen girls strangled, with their teeth extracted. It is also the town where her beloved younger sister, Marian, died from a mysterious illness when Camille was just thirteen. It is precisely this aspect of ‘returning’ that consumes her and carries the story.

Camille goes to stay with her mother, Adora, a tyrannical hypochondriac and the town darling and begins to get to know her mysterious thirteen-year-old half-sister, Amma. The three have little in common save for their unfailing ability to live alongside the brutality that exists so clearly in their lives. Camille has self-harmed since she was a teenager, cutting words into every inch of her skin except for her hands and face; vanish, orgasm, cherry, wicked. Adora is full of silent and tremendous suffering that seems, at times, to be self-inflicted. As for Amma, the brutality that surrounds her is entirely of her own making.

Sharp Objects explores ruined women. Camille is fundamentally uninterested in healing, despite no longer self-harming, and controlling her urges to do so; she seems to have accepted that whatever damage she has is deep enough to never be alleviated. There is a stagnant, familiar nature to her pain. Wind Gap is so well-known to her, with its winding roads and swamps, and deadly woods; and so is her suffering, with its burning urges and rhythms. When the novel begins, Camille has already left Wind Gap for Chicago. There is no reason to leave her pain behind as well.

Amma controls the way she is perceived to a dangerous degree, skillfully navigating the predatory gazes of men. In the HBO six-part adaption, Amma, on their first meeting, whispers to Camille, “I’m incorrigible too, only [Adora] doesn’t know it.” Where Camille is accustomed to the horror that lives with her, Amma is fascinated by it. If Camille is muted, stifled, turmoil personified, Amma is reckless, raw, long gone to the intoxicating venom of youth. The show based off the book, by the same name, has received throws of critical acclaim. Amy Adams does a stellar job as Camille, perfectly capturing the dangerous line she walks.

Flynn does not shy away from running her characters absolutely ragged, which can, at times, feel like an unnecessary addition to the already copious misrepresentations of women’s suffering in the media, but ultimately makes one question: can things really be this bad? Her writing forces the audience to exit their own barometers for how much a woman can tolerate, to redefine how fast-acting certain poisons are. At the end of the day, women’s pain, when written by women themselves, runs much more truthfully than the two-dimensional, often subliminally sexualized, a falsehood that men so frequently produce and are praised for.

Sharp Objects” is entirely worth the read, whether it is taken as a mystery novel or a deliberate prodding at the age-old wound of feminine suffering that raises questions that the women before us ached to ask.