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Literature / Dark Places

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The second crime novel by Gillian Flynn that deals with class issues in rural America, poverty, and the Satanic Panic that swept the United States in the 1980s.

When Libby Day was seven years old, her mother and two sisters were murdered. Her testimony convicted her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, of the killings, and in Libby's words, "Since then I've been waiting to die." But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben's innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. She begins to realize that everyone had something to hide that day... especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.


Who really massacred the Day family?

Tropes included in Dark Places:

  • Abusive Parents: Diondra's parents leave her alone for months at a time, with just three dogs for company. Diondra is seventeen. And Diondra's father threatens to kill her if she ever has sex outside of marriage. While Runner is not physically abusive to the Days, he is a terrible person.
  • The Alcoholic: Runner is stumbling-drunk in about half of the scenes he appears in, and otherwise buzzed. Krissi ends up one too.
    • Although she's only 17, Diondra qualifies.
    "Diondra tended to pass out while still holding a bottle in her hand, it was her preferred way to drink, to do it til it knocked her out, that last sip nearby just in case."
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Patty's initial attraction to Runner. Needless to say, that goes downhill quickly.
  • Alliterative Name: Krissi Cates and Debby Day. Also Diondra's pseudonym of Polly Palm.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Debby gets her arm sliced nearly clean off during the massacre. Libby has three toes and half of her ring finger amputated thanks to frostbite.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Deconstructed. Ben is hated for killing cows with Trey and Diondra, but they did so in a drugged-up haze. Diane finally loses patience with Libby after Libby kills her dog, but this is shown to be mostly accidental and provoked.
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  • Bastard Girlfriend: Diondra to Ben. He doesn't even really like her due to how violent, aggressive, and cruel she is to him. Somewhat related to Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male, but Diondra is portrayed as an unpleasant although abused and mistreated person.
  • Berserk Button: Diondra goes crazy when Ben suggests she have an abortion. She kills Michelle to keep her from telling anyone.
    • Libby does not like being threatened.
  • Big Brother Instinct:
    • Played with. Ben yells at Libby to stay away from the house to protect her from Diondra, but he does very little to stop Diondra strangling Michelle, and does nothing to stop the murders of the rest of his family, albeit there wasn't a lot he could have done against an axe-wilding hitman. Once Diondra gets arrested, he resolves to spend the remainder of his life watching out for Libby.
    • Diane towards Patty.
  • Birds of a Feather: Lyle admits to Libby the reason why he sticks with her is because when he was a kid, he accidentally started a wildfire that ruined many lives, so he understands how she must feel.
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  • Boomerang Bigot: Trey makes a point of not dating Indian chicks, even though he is half Indian. One of the hints about how deeply the racism of Kinnakee affects him.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter:
    • Diondra, at first glance, though it's fairly easy to see why.
    • Michelle and Krissi are a prepubescent versions.
  • Broken Bird: Libby, big time, due to her mother and sisters being murdered. She's a kleptomaniac who's never held a job and generally can barely function as an adult.
  • Butch Lesbian: A rare example in Diane, who has character outside of her appearance/sexuality.
  • Byronic Hero: Ben and Libby both have shades of this, being turbulent, troubled and intelligent. Ben's need for emotional validation and Libby's depression diminish this a bit.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Runner knew Ben had gotten Diondra pregnant, but when Libby asks him why he never told anyone, he replies, "Well, how's that my business?"
  • The Cameo: Gillian Flynn appears as a Lizzie Borden cosplayer in the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Plenty. Michelle's diary, Diondra's lipstick, the underwear Ben buys, Libby's kleptomania, Ben's "Polly" tattoo. And the footprint of a man's dress shoe in blood.
  • Chekhov's Gunman : Calvin Diehl, who is mentioned in passing at the Kill Club meeting as the "Angel of Debt" killer.
  • Children Are Innocent: The cause of Calvin Diehl's one and only My God, What Have I Done?. Other than that, mostly deconstructed.
  • Cool Aunt: Diane.
  • Country Matters: Runner, although it's not clear whether he's calling his own daughter a cunt, or his ex-wife who was savagely murdered.
  • Crapsack World: Even by the standards of Flynn's other novels, Kinakee is poverty-stricken, destitute, and full of miserable, broken people.
  • The Ditz: Debby, at least according to Ben.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Diondra's father. He threatens to shoot his daughter in the head if she has sex before marriage. Diondra mentions to Ben he was in the Vietnam War by way of explanation.
  • Dying Town: Kinakee in spades.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: An unusual self-inflicted version—Libby calls herself "Baby Day" when she's feeling particularly hateful.
    • Bullies at Ben's school call him "Ben Gay".
  • Fallen Princess: Krissi Cates. She goes from a cute, rich, precocious kid to a borderline-alcoholic stripper whose parents want nothing to do with her all because of the lies she told as a little girl.
  • Fiery Coverup: After Libby escapes Diondra and Crystal, they torch the house down and flee the scene before Libby can go to the police. It would have worked, if not for Libby's kleptomaniac tendencies.
  • Freudian Excuse: Diondra's father is an extremely violent, aggressive control freak who threatens to kill her if she ever got pregnant. It's not so surprising that she'd violently kill Michelle when Michelle discovers her pregnancy and threatens to blab, but it's not okay.
    • Lampshaded by Libby at the end about Crystal, Libby's niece and Ben and Diondra's daughter. Libby expresses sympathy for her helping to cover up her mother's crime for years.
  • Friendless Background: None of the Day children have close friends. Special mention goes to Libby and Ben, and Libby realises this to be the case for Crystal.
  • The Gadfly: Patty notes that Runner's bizarre way of showing affection (if it could be called that) for his kids was by mildly irritating them.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Michelle and Debby seemed to—Michelle liked to pile them on her bed and pretend to have 'sleepovers' with them.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Libby notes that since the massacre, she lost the ability to control her anger, mostly as a teenager.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Horrifyingly subverted. Patty intends to do this by arranging her own murder, knowing that the money will be able to provide Ben with a competent defence after he's railroaded for child abuse. However, it's interrupted by her daughter Debby, who is violently killed in front of her by the hitman.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: Rare in-universe example with Diondra.
  • Hurting Hero: Libby, in spades.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Ben is sexually active at fifteen, and it gets him into massive amounts of trouble.
  • In the Blood: Libby tells Ben, "I know a little bit about trying to do the right thing and fucking up completely." Ben comments she could have been talking about the whole family.
  • I Want to Be a Real Man: It was something of an obsession for teenaged Ben, especially given his utter lack of a father figure around and other men automatically perceiving him as weak.
  • I Was Quite the Looker: Patty, though she is still considered quite attractive and treated well because of it, she frequently comments that
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Deconstructed all over the place. While Libby is probably the straightest example, a lot of evidence is given to show how much her manipulative and violent behaviour has hurt those around her, especially her aunt Diane. Krissi and Ben both want to think of themselves this way, but Ben wonders how sincere this is on his part, and Libby refuses to forgive Krissi.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: The only person this could be said of with no doubt is Runner, who even tries to scam his grieving daughter after her whole family has been killed.
  • Kill the Poor: A rare straight example that is justified. Diehl does this as a hitman. He views it as assisted suicide to help the broken and poverty-stricken, as most insurance won't pay out in cases of suicide. This is portrayed as a mark of desperation but also as a moral code, away from the usual implications of Social Darwinism.
  • Lack of Empathy: Different flavors all around; most of the problems the characters face stem from various failures to show — or receive — empathy from one another. Special points go to Runner, Patti's neighbors (who buy the farming equipment she needs at a dirt-cheap price and slutshame her years after her death) and The Kill Club, who don't see any harm in bombarding a Sole Survivor with questions, laughing/jeering her down when she doesn't instantly accept Ben's innocence and generally treating her horribly. (Magda in particular seems more interested in getting Ben out of Jail than she is in raising her own teenage son). Libby herself lacks empathy for others, but the massacre messed her up enough that it's not surprising.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Crystal, Ben's daughter and Libby's niece.
  • Loose Lips: If Crystal had never mentioned the name of Michelle's old middle-school crush, Libby might have never figured out that Diondra was involved in Michelle's death.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: Ben's greatest fear is that he'll end up like the horrible Runner. It's why he makes most of the decisions he does, to protect Diondra and Crystal.
  • Mama Bear: It's constantly teased that Patty might not be this, but by the time she arranges her own murder in order to protect her children, it's undoubtable that she is one.
  • Men Are Tough / Women Are Delicate: Both subverted in a million ways. Ben believes this, but he acts on it to serve Diondra, who is violent, aggressive, and homicidal.
  • My Greatest Failure: The only action Calvin Diehl ever regrets is killing Debby.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Calvin Diehl's reaction when he kills Debby, and gives Patty a messy death.
  • Not Me This Time: Calvin admits to killing Debby, the only murder he was ever sorry for, but he genuinely didn't see Michelle.
  • Obviously Evil: Who would have thought that Diondra, one of the most manipulative and sociopathic characters, would have been the one to kickstart the Day family massacre and spearhead the drama in the later present day scenes?
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Runner. He mostly shows up to beg money from Patty and alternate between belittling his kids and playing it off as a joke, but otherwise he's never around.
    • Patty isn't as bad as Runner, but her family's poverty has left her so exhausted and depressed that she often finds it impossible to attend to her children: feed them properly, drive them to school, clean the house. Once she made Ben bike in the winter to his school because she didn't have the energy to get them there. Libby notes that she did at least try her best.
    • Diondra's parents leave her alone for months at a time totally unsupervised.
  • Parents as People: Patty. She loves her children, but she finds it very hard to deal with Ben's strange behavior and three daughters while trying to keep her parent's farm afloat.
  • Red Herring: Scattered in. Len's dress shoes get their own special mention, a clue that perhaps he's the killer. Each of the three types of murder weapons are used on the cows during Ben's sacrifice, indicating it might have been all three (in fact, none of those weapons were used then, and only one of them is a killer.)
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Diondra, and her younger cousins are the same way.
  • The Runt at the End: Libby, both as a child and an adult.
    "I'm barely five foot—four foot, ten inches in truth, but I round up. Sue me. I'm thirty-one, but people tend to talk to me in sing-song, like they want to give me fingerpaints."
  • Satanic Panic: The main source of conflict.
  • The Scapegoat: Ben, as it turns out, but he allowed it to protect Diondra and Crystal, his daughter.
  • Single Mom Stripper: Krissi is a huge deconstruction of the usual whimsicalness of this trope, being hard-bitten, neglectful, and washed up.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Ben and Diondra, but taken to its logical extreme in that Diondra is straight up abusive and cruel to Ben most of the time.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Michelle. And it gets her killed.
  • So Proud of You: Diane's reaction after Libby finally uncovers the truth.
  • Sole Survivor: Poor Libby.
  • Sticky Fingers: Libby steals little things from each house she goes to. And this proves very important in the climax so she can match Diondra's DNA to the blood on Michelle's mattress.
  • Stopped Caring: Libby has elements of this at the beginning of the novel, living off money she made selling her story as a kid and she occasionally contemplates suicide when feeling particularly low. She slowly gets out of this, with some help from Lyle.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Everybody tells Libby she resembles Patty, even with her hair dyed blonde.
  • Struggling Single Mother: Patty, taken Up to Eleven.
  • Survivor Guilt: Libby—she calls herself 'a coward' for running when she heard her mother and her sisters screaming. Note that she was only seven years old.
  • Tagalong Kid: How Trey treated Ben during the flashbacks.
  • This Is Unforgivable!:
    • Diane finally kicked Libby out after Libby killed Diane's dog. (Albeit she was provoked and it was mostly accidental.)
    • This is how Krissi Cates' parents responded when Krissi admitted she lied about Ben molesting her.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Not so much in looks, but Diane is the outspoken, take-action sister compared to Patty.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Libby grows throughout the book. Becoming more proactive, she also becomes more inclined to do kind things, in her own way. Like ensuring that Krissi leaves with the lotion bottles Krissi stole from her, knowing the emotional validation was necessary to her.
    • Trey, once he grows up and gets out of Kinnakee.
  • Tragic Villain: Krissi. She lies about Ben molesting her and in doing so condemns him to prison, but it's clear that she is utterly destroyed by her poor choices (which also end up wrecking her family).
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: This trope is written into the structure of the story itself. The book is split between the perspective of Libby Day as an adult in the modern day, and the day of the murders from the point of view of various people.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: All over the place. Fifteen-year-old Ben drinks, is sexually active, smokes dope and kills a cow because he wanted to impress Trey and Diondra, Michelle spies on people so she can blackmail them, and Krissi Cates kisses a boy much older than she is, then makes up all the "sex stuff" they did to impress her friends. The only 'normal' child in the novel seems to have been Debby.
    • Libby apparently started out fairly normal, but after seeing her family killed at the ripe old age of seven, she became violently angry and depressed. The reason her aunt kicked her out of her home was because Libby killed Diane's dog, and this was after Libby had already totaled Diane's car, stolen her credit cards, and broken Diane's nose multiple times.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Diondra is a huge deconstruction. She often acts extremely to protect herself and, to a lesser extent, Ben, even goading him along in killing Michelle, claiming that she is doing this. However, she's also shown to be very cruel, selfish, and bullying to Ben.
  • Wham Line: A few:
    • '"I'm here" said the Day Girl.'.
    • "Shhh, the baby's kicking."
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Diondra outright strangles Michelle and she likely would have killed Libby if Ben had agreed to bring her back.
    • Calvin Diehl kills Debby, but he certainly didn't want to and views this as crossing the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Runner insists, rather randomly, "I don't kill girls. I wouldn't kill a little girl."
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Runner tells Libby he has cirrhosis of the liver. With his drinking habits, it's not much of a surprise.

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