Book Pairings :: Dark Places

Just like a sommelier recommends the perfect wine for your meal, I am here to pair the ideal drink for your reading pleasure. Book Pairings is an unconventional book review that expresses my thoughts and feelings about a novel in terms of booze.

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The Book: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

The Booze: Keystone Light

On a drizzly Saturday night in early September, I stood in a dank, crowded basement with a group of girls whom I had only met a week ago. We weren’t really speaking; there was nothing to talk about. We were standing around in a pack cradling red solo cups that we had just received by a guy manning the keg. Most of the people I was with had already got to work depleting their nectar of the college gods. I, on the other hand, stared at its pale sudsy contents. Here it was, my first sip of alcohol. I’m about to be a big girl now. I brought the beer to my lips and took a sizeable gulp, letting the taste wash over my tongue. However, a sobering thought washed over my brain:

“Good god! I’m supposed to like this?!”

This disgusting excuse for a beverage was Keystone Light, and if Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places was to have an alcoholic doppelganger, it would certainly be it.

Dark Places is by no means the worst book I’ve ever read. In fact, unlike Keystone Light, I couldn’t put it down. Gillian Flynn’s sophomore thriller has her twisted stylings and unsuspecting turns that can be found in her other novels (seriously, what happened in this lady’s life that she thinks of this shit?!). Told through the eyes of the victim, the suspect, and a witness, the novel follow the search for truth to the gruesome Satanic massacre of an impoverish Kansas family. Enlisted by a group of amateur sleuthers that call themselves the Kill Club, Libby Day, the sole survivor of her family’s murder, goes down the rabbit hole of that dark day’s events to determine if her teenage brother Ben was really the hand behind the gun. Potential, right? I was constantly turning characters into suspects and eagerly awaiting the next clue. But just like Keystone Light is watered down beer, this novel had me craving more substance. It was a watered down version of what it could be. I wanted more depth to the characters, more motive behind the events, and quite frankly, with the novel’s undertones of devil worship, I wanted more supernatural.

Oh, but there are more parallels to be drawn! Anyone who has sipped cheap beer in a cold, frat basement knows that it doesn’t get better as it goes on. Likewise, the main characters remain unlikeable to the very end. The protagonist, Libby, is the first to call herself “an unlikeable child,” but she continues to be an unlikeable adult. Friendless, disgruntle, disgraced, a kleptomaniac, yet with an internal monologue of undergrad with a degree in creative fiction, it is hard as a reader to care about her. While it is absolutely understandable how she ended up this way (immense childhood trauma probably does that to a person), Flynn does very little with her growth throughout the novel. By the end, I didn’t really care one way or another what happened to Libby once the pages ended. Same goes for her brother, the convicted, supposedly demonic Ben. As much as rumors surrounding him are dispelled, he was introduced as a little shit, and being a little shit is what gets him in trouble.

Then there is the overall mood of the novel: depressing and desolate as the muted plains of Kansas. Flynn is clearly commentating on the correlation between poverty and choice, but it is just as much likely to simply decide never to step foot in Middle America again. It is easy to imagine Runner Day, Libby’s father, downing a can of American light lager on his way to see his kids, or Ben Day getting drunk in the woods off the Keystone thrown at him. To them, it is not so much the taste of the beer as it is how quick it is to get drunk without spending a penny. And to me, tasteless beer is depressing.

If you just want to drink something to get a buzz, pick up keystone light; if you just want to read something to wet your mind, pick up Dark Places.

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