Thrilling Women Writers: Dark Places; Shirley

My summer reading has been quite exciting this summer. After reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl I immediately picked up Dark Places, which was also adapted for the screen starring Christina Hendricks. Dark Places is an intense novel about a young woman named Libby Day who is the sole survivor of slaughter. During what I deem a home invasion scenario, Libby’s mother and two sisters are murdered. Her brother, Ben, is accused of these disturbing acts of violence and is spending his remaining days behind bars. At the time of the killings, Libby is a small child, but in her adult life we engage with her psychological turmoil and follow her down a dark path of twists and turns that leads to the truth behind the death of her family. With that said, Dark Places is slightly more predictable compared to Gone Girl and does not contain any of the sardonic humor that pops up inthe voices of Nick and Amy.

Although I enjoyed Gone Girl far more than Dark Places, Flynn once again captures voice in a startling and remarkable way that leaves you uneasy and disturbed. Upon putting the book down to give yourself a break, you’ll find your brain mulling over Libby’s experiences and her current discoveries regarding the death of her family members.

Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel, Shirley, is a psychological thriller that brings to life through the eyes of our narrator Rose Nemser, the voice of one of the 20th centuries most important women writers, Shirley Jackson. As I was reading this I could not help but wonder what any surviving children of Jackson thought of this novel. Merrell includes each of the Jackson-Hyman children and although they are minor characters they are extremely important nonetheless, particularly Barry and Sally. Here, we follow the recollections of Rose Nemser’s time living in the the Jackson-Hyman household in Bennington, Vermont. Merrell explores the writing rituals, personalities, Stanley’s infidelities, and how Stanley and Shirley’s world infiltrates the minds of Rose and her husband Fred. Most fascinating about the novel is Rose’ continued suspicion that Stanley and Shirley had some connection with Paula Weldon, a real-life student that went missing from Bennington College in 1946. The novel is subtle in its reveals, but this is another outstanding work that ensnares voice so well; Rose herself is a combination of Eleanor (The Haunting of Hill House) and Constance (We Have Always Lived in the Castle) that is startling, disturbing.  For any fan of Shirley Jackson this is a must-read.

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