Happy Octopuses

Writing and Happiness

Review of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

http://gillian-flynn.com/sharp-objects/sharp-objects-book-cover.jpg

 

Sharp Objects was the debut novel of award-winning Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, yet that fact was not immediately apparent reading the book. Flynn shows off her writing prowess with this first novel, and I found it to be just as intriguing as her later novels. Flynn demonstrates her mastery of creating complex characters that can both appeal to and disturb the reader with the main character Camille Preaker, a reporter for a small newspaper in Chicago, and is sent back to her small hometown to cover the murder of two young girls.

The novel centers primarily on Camille’s struggle to be back at “home” with the neurotic mother she has tried to distance herself from, the stepfather she has no relationship with, and the half-sister she barely knows. Meanwhile, the search for the killer of two young girls continues, and Camille’s attempts at getting information from the police are continuously blocked.

Flynn beautifully sets up the mystery of who the killer is. I suspected I knew who it was throughout the novel, and near the end thought I was proven right, only to fall for the twist. This book kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

I actually listened to the audiobook version of Sharp Objects, and would highly recommend it. The narrator of the novel fit it perfectly, and brought this book to life. Get the audiobook free with a 30 day free trial of Audible!

Read the book and tell me what you think in the comments!

 

“Black holes ain’t as black as they’re painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole, on the outside, and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up-there’s a way out.”

-Stephen Hawking

The Past is Gone

And yet it haunts us like an uneasy ghost

Hanging on our shoulders, pulling us backwards

Or worse, so much worse.

An evil poltergeist, bent on destroying us.

But the past is gone,

Just a ghost you can turn your back on.

Actually, We Can

Dreams don’t have to stay dreams.

            We, as a people, tend to think our dreams are these faraway fantasies, things that we will forever yearn for, and yet never have, never achieve. We see them as something that will happen later in life, once we are out of school, once we are settled in our boring, 9-5 career. Then we can chase our dreams. Or we tell ourselves we couldn’t do that anyway, we couldn’t make money living our dreams. We listen to others who criticize our dreams, who tell us we can’t.

            We hold ourselves back. We don’t give chase. We follow the easy path. We follow what we think we “should” do. We then become those disenchanted people who tell others that they can’t follow their dream, and they ought to just get a good secure job, anyway.

But we can follow our dreams. Sure, perhaps they won’t pan out exactly how we want or plan. Perhaps we won’t ever be able to make a living off them. But isn’t achieving even one tiny slice better than resigning to failure immediately? Isn’t just the act of striving for that dream so much more satisfying than putting it on hold?

I say chase your dreams. Inject them into your life, even if it’s just a little bit. Chase them, even if it’s just a few, slow steps at a time.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is amazing the strides we have made as a country, and as a people, towards greater equality. Looking at the past, even the very recent past of only a handful of decades ago, is terrifying. Thinking of what even just my grandmother had to go through, or her grandmother, breaks my heart. Thinking that if nothing had changed, if people had not fought with their lives to change the world, I could be living a very different, much more horrifying life, or worse not exist at all, makes me nothing short of eternally grateful.

However, this does not mean the fight is over. It does not mean that there is no more changes to be made, that there is no more discrimination or injustice. We have come far, but we still have so far to go.

Yet, it seems that people (the media, politicians, random strangers on Facebook) will argue vehemently that we have surpassed injustice. That we have achieved equality. They will tell you that no, there is no racism. There is no sexism. There is no discrimination. They will fight hard to keep the world as it is because, hey, this is as good as it gets.

But it truly is not. There is absolutely still racism, still sexism, still discrimination in this world. Only now, it is not nearly as blatant and obvious as it used to be. Now, it is not as easy to spot. We have removed so much discrimination, that now what is left is the hardest to remove. Now, what is left is the structural, systemic discrimination. What we have been left with is the system that was built on racism, sexism and homophobia. We are left with what a discriminatory history built for us. And that makes it so much harder to see or to remove.

While a person on a hiring committee may not themselves have racist or sexist tendencies, the system in which they hire new employees pushes for them to hire those who are closest to a straight, white male as possible. There are plenty of studies out there showing what happens when identical resumes are sent in with two different names on them, and I highly suggest looking them up.

We live in a world that has come very far, thanks to the actions of activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but still has very far to go, thanks to a history of discrimination.

We do not live in a brand new, popped out of nothing society that has no baggage or influences from our past. But we also do not live in a society that is content with stagnating. There will always be someone to fight, and to push us away from the status quo, and there will always be those willing to rebuild on a base of equality and justice.

But there will always be more to do.

mlk

Photo from biography.com

On Getting Older

Moving from the simple youngness of teenagehood into the more complex nuances of young adulthood is, at best, a bit jarring. It is not just the change of numbers on various official forms. It’s not just being able to say a curse word or two in front of your parents. It’s not even just being able to vote or buy legal drugs. The move from teenagehood to being a young adult holds so many other small, strange stages.

As a teenager, there is still quite a bit that lingers from childhood. You will most likely still view yourself as a child. When in situations with people older than yourself, you no doubt defer to them. Their word is the last, and any questions are directed at them. Sure, there is the occasional moment when, as a budding young adult, you get to have a say in something. But these are rare and feel strange, anyway. Really, it makes sense for you to defer to others, to look to those who are an “authority” over you.

Being young does have its disadvantages. You simply don’t have the same kinds of experience, or really just the amounts of experience as someone older. More years hold more experiences and the knowledge that comes with them.

People warn of many of the thresholds that you cross as you age: turning eighteen, being able to vote and smoke, turning twenty, leaving the throws of teenage years behind, turning twenty-one, being able to vote and having passed most aging thresholds. But no one warns of the small nuances that come with them.

When you turn eighteen, perhaps you don’t feel much of anything. Perhaps you’re still living with your parents, or parent figures, and not much has changed. You aren’t quite an adult yet, and family members still scoff at the idea of you being considered an adult. You turn twenty, leaving behind childhood, teenagehood, stepping forth into young adulthood.

Then things change at twenty. You move away from home, and start supporting yourself near 100%. Perhaps you still don’t feel very much like an adult, perhaps in situations with “authority” figures, you still defer. You still don’t assert your growing knowledge and experience base, but that’s fine. You still feel so young. And yet around you, suddenly friends are having children, getting married, becoming adults. The strangeness begins to set in.

And then you turn twenty-one. You cross all thresholds. You live out on your own, supporting yourself, moving through life based mostly on your own judgements, your own decisions. Suddenly, though you have no desire to, you can buy any type of legal drug. You can get in anywhere, to any restaurant, any event without a worry.

That is not the biggest change, or the strangest or the most unsettling. The strangest and most unsettling is that now, in situations with people who are older than you, you less often see an “authority” and start to see an “equal”. You feel more comfortable exercising your own knowledge, your own experience with confidence.

All of a sudden, you don’t feel like a child with lots to learn. You don’t feel you have too little knowledge or experience to navigate the grown up world. All of a sudden, or perhaps it was building up slowly and you didn’t notice, you feel like a person. A knowledgeable, credible human being who has the capacity to get through life. Sure, you’ve still got an overwhelming amount to learn, but you know how to learn it, and, most importantly, you know how to survive in the meantime.

Getting older isn’t just about the big, exciting thresholds you cross. It’s also about the way you view yourself, and your place in relation to others. It’s about how you interact with the world and the people in it. It’s about how you stumble through life with a little more confidence.

“Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

Ellie

“I can’t believe I’m talking to a cat,” I shake my head at myself. The cat simply stares, a slight purr starting in the back of her throat.

I get up to get myself another glass of wine, mumbling how I should’ve just left the bottle on the coffee table. A wave of embarrassment clenches my stomach. Had I really just been venting to my cat? Did I really just spend the better part of an hour telling her all about how mean my coworkers are, how vicious and cruel customers are, how my new supervisor seems to hate me? God, could I be more pathetic?

I flop back onto the couch, somehow lucky enough to not spill any of my drink. My cheeks feel wet and my eyes feel swollen and uncomfortable.

It really doesn’t help that my father called as soon as I got home after work to, for the third time this week, rave at me about how I’m in a dead-end job and should go back to school or I’m just going to end up being a worthless member of society.

At least the wine helps. And the cat listens.

My apartment feels strange tonight. It feels cooler than usual, though I know I didn’t alter the thermostat. Not to mention the weird…Occupied feeling. Like it’s not just me and Pancake. I find myself glancing over my shoulder every few minutes. What brand of wine even is this?

I need to go to bed.

I click on the light in the bathroom and find myself screaming.

Change your ways, blood-red letters drip across the bathroom mirror.

No, that can’t be blood! How would blood have gotten in here? Suddenly I’m overtaken with rage. No, this is some prank from my asshole father, I just know it. Change your ways? That has dad written all over it!

I flick the light back off, too angry to brush my teeth or even pee. Instead, I just throw myself into bed. Seething with anger and full of a little too much wine, I drift to sleep.

 

Pancake is laying near my head on the pillow she commandeered from me, growling threateningly. I am coming rather slowly out of sleep, wondering what in the world is going on.

“Pancake? What the hell?”

My stomach is twisting, the sleep falling away more quickly as I realize she is very seriously growling, something she never does. I turn to click on the light.

Standing at the foot of the bed is a pale woman, dressed in clothes covered in some green-brown substance. Her face is ashen, and streaked with black. Her hair hangs limp around her face. Her eyes stare unwaveringly at me.

I find myself screaming again.

 

֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍֍

 

My heart would break for her, if only it still existed. Her life is all too familiar to me: the job filled with dissatisfaction and cruelty, evenings and weekends void of friendship, a family who is more interested in what they think she should be and how she has fallen short of that expectation than what she is and could be.

I can see what she could be, quite clearly. She could be just like me. She could be full of Tylenol pills, covered in vomit and streaked mascara. She could find herself more alone than ever before.

Sure, I could do some of the things I never could have before. I could travel all around the world, I could read every book, I could write a memoir. But there’s so much of the things I longed desperately for in life that I will never achieve.

I can’t just sit by and watch her travel the same road I did, end at the same destination. I can’t watch as all her desires become unattainable in the most permanent way.

The problem is, I have no idea what I’m doing.

It’s not like the movies. There’s no official on the other side to tell you where to go. There’s no Handbook for the Recently Deceased. There is no smiling god there to lead you to heaven. It’s just like life. You are alone and confused, and must make your own way.

My first thought is to write a message to her, some sort of warning. I quickly find I can’t manipulate physical objects, but I do seem to be able to manifest blood out of thin air, and that’s as good as a pencil, right?

I decide to go with something concise and to the point, right on the bathroom mirror where I know she’ll see it. Change your ways. That’ll do it; it says everything I want to say to her in three easy words.

When she sees it she screams, then seems to become upset.

Ok, I guess that didn’t work. I wonder if she can see me….Maybe I can make her see me, then I could just speak to her.

The cat, who she adorably named Pancake, seems to see me. She begins to growl at me menacingly, and I wonder if she’d actually be able to do me harm. If my skin existed, it would be crawling with goosebumps.

Finally Ellie wakes up.

“Pancake? What the hell?” she shuffles about in the bed and the light clicks on. We stare at each other for a moment.

And again with the screaming.

“Ellie…” My voice doesn’t sound anything like it should. I sound like a hundred year old smoker. I can finally feel my mouth. It is dry and holds the memory of the taste of bile.

“Ellie, change your ways. If you keep going…You will end up like me….”

Her eyes are wide, her mouth agape. Suddenly she jumps, as if startled. I don’t understand.

Ellie, I make no sound.

She stares right at me, her breathing slowing, her eyes still wide. Pancake still twitches her tail uneasily, though she no longer growls.

I do not move. I just stare as she relaxes again, as sleep overtakes her.

A Love Story

“How can you be so impatient?” Her voice was not harsh or sarcastic, but instead lilted with an honest curiosity.

He’d been gazing out the window, but at that he turned to look at her.

“What?”

“I said, ‘how can you be so impatient.'”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well,” she said, “It’s just that you’re so old. Don’t people get more patient with age or whatever?” Her eyebrows were slightly furrowed and her voice was soft and sweet.

He simply looked at her for a moment, hazel eyes wide. Then he burst out laughing. Big, loud belly laughs that drew the attention of people at tables nearby them.

She jumped slightly, startled.

As he laughed, the waiter bustled over, their food in hand. He set the plates in front of them with half mumbled “Here you go” and “Here’s yours” and “So sorry about that so sorry,” skittering away before she could ask for ketchup.

“Why are you laughing so much?” She was chuckling a bit herself now.

“People get more patient with age!” He laughed. “You’re a riot. People don’t get more anything with age, except maybe grumpy. And c’mon, just because I have eternity stretching out before me doesn’t mean I’m any more inclined to wait an hour for a damn hamburger than you are!” And with that, he dug in to his sandwich.

The rest of the meal was quiet, except for the sounds of him gobbling up his hamburger and devouring his fries. She picked at her food, stirred the ice around in her tea.

It didn’t take long for them to eat, and they left only a small tip.

They wandered along the street, hand in hand. He swung their arms lightly, whistling a tune and pointing out all the cute dogs he saw.

She allowed her hand to be swung, listened to his whistle, gave the obligatory smile for each dog. She fingered the hem of her blouse, twirled strands of the long brown wig atop her head, tugged uncomfortably at the underwire bra stuffed with tissues that allowed her to look the way she should in the blouse.

As they walked, a park sprouted up, and they meandered off the sidewalk and onto the dirt path winding through it. Several yards in, an enormous oak tree stood off the path with a bench resting in its shade.

“I want to sit down.” He said simply, leading them off the path.

She crossed her legs when she sat, smoothing her skirt over her tights. He turned his body so that he could look at her, resting an elbow on the back of the bench, his head on his hand.

“So what’s wrong, then?”

Her head snapped around to look at him. “What do you mean? Nothing’s wrong.” She attempted to smile.

“Well, I don’t believe that for a second. You barely smiled at the dogs we saw, and there was a Pomeranian for Christ’s sake. And you’ve been fidgeting at your clothes the whole time.” He used his free hand to pinch playfully at the shoulder of her blouse. “So what’s wrong?”

She looked down at her hands, studying her pink nail polish, wondering if the pink blouse and the pink polish and the pink lip gloss were overcompensating. “Well, I’ve just been thinking of what you said at the restaurant. How people don’t get more of anything as they get older, and it just made me wonder. If you’re not getting any more patient as you get older, are you getting any more tolerant? I know so far you’ve been really sweet and stuff but I don’t know….”

Just then a pack of men walked by, and when they noticed him touching her shoulder, leaning close to her, and how she didn’t look quite right in her clothes, they began to laugh. “Faggots!” One of them shouted, which made the others hoot and holler. For a moment they looked as though they’d come closer, harass them further, but instead they moved along down the path.

Her heart was heavy, and her eyes stung. She buried her face in her hands, trying with all her might not to cry.

He moved closer to her, wrapping his arms around her. He squeezed her tightly to him. “I know. I know you know I was born in a weird, intolerant, close-minded time. And I really do think that people don’t get more of anything, whether that be tolerant or patient or whatever, with time. But you know what does happen? They see and experience things and meet people that make them change. Time alone doesn’t make you more patient or open minded, but all the people you meet along the way and things you see do. And I don’t know if you know this, but I started out pretty open minded and impatient in the first place,” He kissed her head, hairs from her wig sticking to his mouth as he drew away.

She shifted so she could get her arms around him, and squeezed back. Upon letting go, she said, “Thanks, Hector. I’ve never been with anyone who was so willing to accept me like this. I mean, they’ve done such terrible things to me-“

“There’s no need to talk about them and bring up those bad memories.”

She smiled. “It’s just surprising that you’d be so ok with me.”

“I’m so much more than ok with you. I’m in love with you. None of it, not your body or what gender people think you should be because of your body, none of that matters. You are the only thing that matters, and you are not your genitals. Besides, it’s not like I’m exactly a normal guy either, it’s surprising you’d be ok with me!

Her eyes no longer stung, and the tears that threatened were no longer because of sadness and pain. She leaned into him again, squeezing him tightly. He squeezed her back, his eyes also wet.

“I love you, Hector.”

Someone’s Opinion of You Doesn’t Have to Become Your Reality.

I’m unsure the source of this quote but I love it.

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