Today's writers apparently believe they need to give their story's characters bizarre personalities in order to keep their books from being just another murder mystery. Gillian Flynn has tested the limits of this trend by writing Sharp Objects
through the first person narrative of a newspaper reporter named Camille Preaker who has numerous mental health issues, the most dramatic of which is a compulsion to self mutilate. She has received counseling and treatment in a mental hospital for the problem. It's now mostly under control, but the compulsive urges continue. And as the story progresses we learn that she is one of the more saner women in the story. There are no good women in this story. They're all twisted in some way. Even the teenaged and younger girls are mentally unbalanced. By comparison the men in the story are relatively well adjusted. There are probably dozens of mental health diseases portrayed in this book, some of which are more bizarre than self mutilation. But I can't say any more without being a spoiler. I can't help but wonder what the opinions of mental health professionals are of this book.
I generally don't enjoy reading about people behaving badly. But this ends up being an interesting story. And once I got used to it, hearing the inner thoughts of a person struggling with obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges was also somewhat insightful. But warning to the reader; A lot of the story's scenes and the inner thoughts of the narrator have to do with blood and gore.
The story's protagonist, Camille Preaker, is a cub reporter in Chicago and is sent back to her Missouri hometown to investigate the grisly murders of two young girls. She is also a woman with sad secrets of her own, and the scars of many self-inflicted childhood cuts to prove it. This tension-building, stylish, dark thriller shows that you can go home again, but you probably shouldn’t.
I selected this book because of it's rural Missouri setting which is my part of the country (except I'm from Kansas). Also the author, Gillian Flynn, grew up in the Kansas City area and attended KU which are things I can identify with. Had I known that the story's protagonist was so mentally twisted I probably would have never listened to the book. But it turned out to be a good, but dark, mystery story.
There is an essay by Gillian Flynn at http://www.powells.com/essays/flynn.html in which she said that she wanted to write about the violence of women. She said there are already plenty of books about "brutal men, trapped in a cycle of aggression." So she set out the balance things out, and she succeeded.
The following quote from the book I think summarizes the book's message:
"Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.