Camille Preaker works for a daily paper in Chicago that can be described as “second-rate”. Her editor, Frank Curry (who is also a friend in a parental kind of way) sends Camille on her very first assignment.
A murder happened in Wind Gap, Camille’s hometown. This wasn’t news, as the murder happened long enough ago to have already passed through the news cycle. A pre-teen girl was found dead in a creek with a rope around her neck and all of her teeth missing. Now, another pre-teen girl has disappeared.
Editor Frank Curry sends Camille back to Wind Gap, where she is expected to stay with her mother, as she investigates what happened. Just the thought of returning home puts Camille’s mind back into unhealthy places. She is freshly out of a stay in a psychological hospital, and it is clear from the start that returning to Wind Gap is going to do bad things to Camille’s mental health.
Sharp Objects is the perfect name for this book, and the razor blade image on the cover is the most appropriate and descriptive image I can think of for this story. At a glance, the reader knows that the book is going to include tough moments, pain, and blood. In addition to being a murder mystery, Sharp Objects also delves into the deep psychological and emotional pain that so many characters are experiencing.
Some handle this pain better than others. There’s plenty of examples of unhealthy ways to cope with problems that are longstanding, steeped in difficult relationships, and resulting in abuse.
Sharp Objects was an Edgar Nominee for Best First Novel. On the trade paper copy that I have, there is a “blurb” by Stephen King (one of my favorite authors). The fact that he liked the book gives readers a glimpse into what they are in for.
Camile Preaker, the reader soon learns, is a “cutter”. She has been using razor blades to carve words into her skin. As a result, most of her body is covered in scars that people can not only see but also read. She’s turned herself into a walking journal of every awful thing she’s ever thought about herself. (Some of the worst words were re-carved into nicer ones as she got older).
The reason why Camille cuts has a lot to do with her mother, Adora. They never bonded. Camille was born to a teenage mother whose parents strongly disapproved. The family was rich, so there was money to help care for the baby. But, Adora’s parents offered her no compassion at all. Camille never knew her father, but she did grow up with a father-figure (of sorts). Her mother married a man when Camille was very young. She was instructed to call him by his first name (not “dad”).
Camille’s sister died when she was still a child. Obviously, this hit Camille very hard. Where other families would comfort each other after such a loss, Camille’s mother completely shut her out. Not long after Marian’s death, Amma was born. She’s now a pre-teen who wears doll-like dresses at home and is obsessed with a four-foot dollhouse that matches the large family home. When Amma is not at home, she is the head of a small clique of pre-teen girls who all dress too old for themselves, drink, go to parties with teenagers and college students, and do drugs.
The investigation is difficult on Camille, who finds herself writing words and names on her skin (instead of cutting). She’s very close to cutting again. Editor Cutty believed that Camille would be the best reporter to send because she had connections in Wind Gap.
Instead, being from there makes things more difficult. She has to navigate around social connections from years ago – her mother’s friends, the people she went to high school with – and this brings up a lot of bad and buried memories. But, she perseveres because she wants to please Cutty, who believes that this story would be excellent for their newspaper.
Sharp Objects grabbed my attention right from the start, and I wanted to read through the whole thing at once. But, I also wanted to take my time with the story because it had so much in it. It’s a “who done it”, a psychological thriller, and written from the viewpoint of a character who has survived a horrifically dysfunctional family situation. There were times when I was convinced that I’d figured out who the murderer was – until something made me change my mind. This book will keep you guessing, right up to the point where the pieces fit together.