“Publisher's Weekly” took some flak for only including male authors in their list of ten best books of 2009. Of those ten books, I've so far only read Await Your Reply and The Lost City of Z. I don't know what the ten best books of 2009 are, and nor do you. However Dark Places is a novel, published by a woman this year, that I believe to be the best of all the books I mention in this blog post, all of which are good books. Dark Places is included in the “Publisher's Weekly” list of twenty works of fiction that appears immediately beneath the list of ten best books of 2009, as is Yiyun Li's The Vagrants.
A paragraph from Dark Places --
“They turned down some road, trees sucking them in, tunnel-like on all sides and he realized he had no idea where they were. He just hoped whatever was about to happen was over soon. He wanted a hamburger. His mom made crazy hamburgers, called them kitchen-sinkers, fattened up cheap ground meat with onions and macaroni and whatever else crap was about to go bad. One time he swore he found part of a banana, glopped over with ketchup – his mom thought ketchup made everything OK. It didn't, her cooking sucked, but he'd eat one of those hamburgers right now. He was thinking I'm so hungry I could eat a cow. And then, as if his food-prayer worked, he refocused his eyes from a gritty stain on the backseat to the outside and there were ten or twenty Herefords standing in the snow for no reason. There was a barn nearby but no sign of a house, and the cows were too dumb to walk back into the barn, so they stood like a bunch of fat assholes, blowing steam from their nostrils. Herefords were the ugliest cows around, giant, rusty, with white crinkled faces and pink-rimmed eyes. Jersey cows were sort of sweet looking, they had those big deer faces, but Herefords looked prehistoric, belligerent, mean. The things had furry thick waddles and curvy-sharp horns and when Trey pulled to a stop, Ben felt a flurry of nerves. Something bad was going to happen.”
And for those of you who object to books being well-written, the story's so perfectly constructed, the plot so engrossing, that you don't have to pay any attention to how vivid the language is if you don't feel like doing so.
Ethan Canin once said something about a book's popularity often correlating with how likeable the main character is -- but I find that thriller writers often make the mistake of including a character they try too hard to make likeable. Reliably, I don't like these characters! In the same way, if you're introducing me to someone and you want me to like them, you shouldn't tell me I'm going to like them – this automatically puts me against them. My advice to writers would be not to try and make the character likeable, but to make the character confident about who they are. Pull this off and the likeability somehow takes care of itself.
Where I'm going with this -- Flynn is an author who definitely cannot be accused of trying too hard to make her characters likeable. Although at least one character in the book is a saint, but her fate is so mind-blowingly horrible, nobody could possibly hold her likeability against her ... You thought In Cold Blood told you what's the matter with Kansas? Dark Places tells you what's the matter with Kansas.
Seriously, you gotta read this one... Hat tip to Michelle Gagnon for recommending it on Facebook.