Or how they’ve perfectly transcribed an awesome book to screen
I’ve read every book that Gillian Flynn has ever written. Yes, bookworm and proud of it.
It’s dangerous out there for you, people are killing little girls.
And my favourite: Sharp Objects.
I read it in 2016, many years after it had been published and I was surprised by the quality of the writing, the core emotions and the level of detail. (See the review here)
The story is simple: 30-something reporter goes back to her home town after a gruesome murder of a girl had been discovered. She goes to live with her estranged mother and young sister she’d never met and as details of the current murder surface, so do old memories. Her first sister died when she was young, turns out she was methodically poisoned by her deranged mother and now this mother was doing the same thing to her younger sibling. She could feel loved only when her child needed her and was sick and solely dependent on her care. There is a gruesome excerpt from the book where the sheer abuse is described in detail.
When the TV series came out on HBO, I was immediately hooked. It’s got Amy Adams in it and you can tell the director did a great job because the town and Amma and her mother are exactly as I pictured them from the book.
As I was watching, a few themes that I didn’t immediately notice started bugging me. The town is in the south and it’s massively white. Sharp Objects’ relationship with its Southern “heritage” is as thorny as Adora’s blood-red roses, its painful barb more put on than real.
There is only one black character – the maid – and she is stuck in her position serving this conniving woman because that was her only option in a town this size. This or the hog farm – where they butchered pigs.
Not a lot of choice in Wind Gap,” Gayla replies, in one of the handful of times she speaks aloud in the entire series. “You got domestic work, you got the hog farm. I don’t like pigs.”
When Camille went driving to find the only suspect at that time, she passes though the ghetto – run down houses, trashy lawns, a bar where no-one speaks English and they served alcohol from 10AM. There is a distinct line between the rich and the poor and there is a distinct smell of old money.
Camille’s mother does not work. She’s seen pruning her roses but that’s only because she wants to do it. Her husband does not work either and spends the majority of his time trying to pry open his wife’s legs or listening to music. The story is really about the effects of repression and denial on an individual level and beyond – the monstrousness that can fester when we do not let in light or truth. The murder mystery is, so far, subordinate to that of Camille’s psyche, but the one is set fair to help disentangle the other as we move through the next seven parts of the series.
The second contrast comes from how things are and how they appear to be. Appearances are everything in this small town and gossip is treated as an Olympic sport. Everyone wants to be seen, to have their words in the paper or appear on TV. Prime example:
This power-hungry socialite who calls Camille a bitch for not using her words in the article and insistence on behaving like the advocate and sole voice of the prime suspect. Only for popularity and not for love.
What I loved the most was the shocking behaviour of the thirteen-year-olds in the town. You would have thought that being away from the city would help in raising free and balanced kids. Instead you have little monsters on roller-blades, taking ecstasy, Oxy and getting dead drunk. “I’m so bored!” Amma confesses at one point. It’s only because it’s such a closed town, such a knit community, that nothing can be done without everyone else knowing about it and somebody commenting on it. The only way to rebel is defying authority, dress code and engaging in very dangerous and sexual activities. I mean the football team would have their way with the cheerleader of the month. Gang rapes and sexual orgies.
That’s the main reason why Camille cuts herself and wears the long jumpers. Never names, always words that mean something to her. “Slut”, “Nurse”, “Cherry”, “Harm”, “Dirty”, “Whore”. They all blaze into her skin and shine when they come out in the foreground of her mind. She wears her wounds on the outside of the body, not on the inside.
Well, each deals with trauma in their own way. Camille was traumatised by the death of her younger sister and the attempts of her mother to poison her as well, her mother was traumatised by her own mother, Camille’s grandmother, who would often abandon her in the woods to see if she made it back home. It’s a cycle of abuse that breaks each generation in turn.
I would have thought that Amma escaped but here’s the fun bit. The TV show ending is VERY DIFFERENT from the book. In the book Camille’s mother is the killer. She killed those two girls because they were strong-willed, tom-boyish and not pliable enough for her. She killed Natalie when she bit her in self-defence. She pulled all of her teeth out in spite and bit her dead body in return. What hate!
The TV Shows offers Amma up as the killer. After her mother is arrested and she goes to live with Camille in the big city, she is discovered when Camille finds that the doll house she kept had one of the floors made up not of ivory but of human teeth. She killed the other girls because they were not conforming, they were still playing kid’s games and would not grow up as fast as she and her girlfriends did.
I felt it then and I feel it now: 13year olds are scary!
PS: I loved how Camille was old enough to realise that she might have some of her mother’s sickness – in the way she wrote in her final article:
“Men get to be warrior poets. What woman is described that way? Not Adora.
Prosecution says my mother is a warrior martyr. If she was guilty, they argued, it was only of a very female sort of rage. Overcare.
Killing through kindness. It shouldn’t have surprised me that Adora fell on that sword spectacularly.
Of course, she never did explain the teeth or that kind of naked rage a person, man or woman, would need to do something like that.
It didn’t fit.
So, as with everything in my mother’s world, it didn’t exist, except perhaps in some dark place only she knows about.
My mother has many years to consider what she’s done.
As for me, I’ve forgiven myself for failing to save my sister and given myself over to raising the other.
Am I good at caring for Amma because of kindness, or do I like caring for Amma because I have Adora’s sickness?
I waver between the two.
Especially at night, when my skin begins to pulse.
Lately, I’ve been… leaning toward kindness.”
So which one you think is worse? A deranged mother who makes her child sick so she can get attention and win the “Mother of the Year Award” and then perform a “Martha Stewart Funeral” when her kid passes on or a teenager who knows more about sex and life than a grown up and who thinks that torturing others that are not like her is an OK thing to do? Was the killer better in the book or in the TV show?