Sharp Objects: The Sharpest Part of Summer

Like many, I was lured into the dark world of Gillian Flynn via 2012’s Gone Girl. I quickly devoured her other two novels: Dark Places was good, but Sharp Objects was something magical. It’s not often that I come across a book that checks off every guilty pleasure on my list. Sharp Objects had a mystery, a damaged but interesting protagonist, some absolute darkness, a dash of sexiness and a little shock and blatant WTF. It’s a grown-up V.C. Andrews book I didn’t even need to be ashamed of enjoying.

So, back in 2014 when a limited series based off the novel was announced, I was more than excited, and after a few years of waiting, I can say that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the ride. We’re five episodes into the series now, and just like with the books I’ve read lately, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts.

Camille's VANISH scar in Sharp Objects. (HBO)

Casting

In the book, Camille’s character had such an edge. Her voice held power through the pages. Amy Adams’ portrayal of Camille, however, is a little more subdued. I actually find her casual demeanor a refreshing take. I’ve empathized with her descent through alcoholism, as well as her temptation to exercise in self-harm. I like watching her navigate uncomfortably in her mother’s home. I like watching her shuffle with ease through Wind Gap’s pub. I like how her old “ripe” persona emerges when she’s attempting to get information from Richard, the sexy Kansas detective. There are things in Adams’ Camille that make for a great watch. She doesn’t come across as too edgy or too aggressive. She’s just a woman trying to find her way.

Also worth mentioning are the other two female leads:

Patricia Clarkson makes the perfect Adora. She’s so prim and proper and so easy to hate, yet so easy to want to know more about. I’ve also quite grown to love Eliza Scanlan’s portrayal of Camille’s younger half-sister, Amma, especially after the events of episode 5.

Amma leans against her replica dollhouse in Sharp Objects. (HBO)

Visuals

I haven’t seen any work by director Jean-Marc Vallée, before, but I’ve found his form of visual story-telling to be a wild ride. Many scenes of the show are bisected and slashed with jarring images of Camille’s tortured past. While confusing for some viewers, I’ve found the show entirely immersive.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this connected with a character in a television show before. Maybe it’s just the woman in me, but there are plenty of scenes where Camille ends up confronting raw and fragile emotion, and the quick jarring scenes of her memories slotted in with present-time always give me a little bit of anxiety, and that anxiety ends up woven in the story’s narrative. Words carved into Camille’s body often appear in various scenes.

GIRL. SCARED. TEETH. ASK!

Those words were effective in the novel, but it takes a careful eye to spot them all on the screen. As a viewer you find yourself searching for them, searching for little meaning. Other images become important as the series builds. Women in white dresses. Spiders. Roller skates. Bondage porn. They all start to bleed into the narrative. We all see what Camille sees. We live in her head.

Camille sees "The woman in white" at the park in Sharp Objects. (HBO)

I find the visuals exciting because it’s the sort of storytelling that can’t be done to quite the same effect in literature, and it’s something that’s truly stunning about storytelling onscreen.

Sets

While Sharp Objects doesn’t have a large selection of very memorable sets, Adora Preaker’s house definitely hits the top. Although we don’t see much more than a few bedrooms and the front hallway and that gorgeous AF veranda, Adora’s house is definitely one that holds a bit of lore. Even seeing the window fans in Adora’s room make me feel the tension that exists in the household. It’s simply stunning, and honestly, I almost went out and bought the series tie-in book just for that green hallway wallpaper. It’s that pretty.

I like the repetitive shots of the train cars and town murals that convey the Wind Gap’s old ways and refusal to progress from them. Not to mention, the Calhoun Day episode is wonderfully elegant with lace parasols and a wonderful blend of old and new Americana. It’s been the most visually delightful episode to watch thus far, and I am losing it over that Temperley London dress that Adora wore. I’ve also gotta tip a hat at Elizabeth Perkin’s character, Jackie, who gets some pretty killer outfits too.

Score

I’ve never seen a show that uses music in quite the same way that Sharp Objects does. Most of it plays when Camille is listening to a phone that once belonged to roommate at the psychiatric hospital she checked into before the events of the series. Said roommate, Alice, used music as a form of escape. Camille eventually adopts the same method when she takes the phone to Wind Gap, but the music isn’t so much of an escape as is wanderlust into the dark landscape that Camille must trek through.

Amma's friends rollerskate at night in Sharp Objects. (HBO)

Plot

To be honest, even for a “psychological thriller” not much actually happens in Sharp Objects. Both in the show and in the book. This is something that I really appreciate, especially when CGI-heavy superhero movies are all that ever seem to get any attention these days. The true success of shows like Sharp Objects (and True Detective and Better Call Saul, for that matter), isn’t so much the events, but how the events affect the characters.

Should Sharp Objects have more digging, more murders, more gore? Probably, but I don’t really care when you get a scene like the one where Adora tells Camille that she never loved her. You don’t need CGI with that. You just need a great story and great actors. Let the heartbreak ensue.

Sharp Objects the book or Sharp Objects the series?

An often-asked question about book-adaptations is whether to read the book or watch the movie (or in this case, series) first. The book will always be a more enriching, immersive experience, and this case is no different. However, with Sharp Objects, I’d say that the book will definitely aid any viewer. This is the first time I’ve ever felt that both forms go hand in hand. Some of the visuals can be confusing for non-readers. Reading the book before watching is like having the guide to find all the Easter Eggs.

And for that matter, ALWAYS read the book first. It’s always better to imagine your own literary world before you buy a book with the actors on the cover and the world already built for you.

What about you?

Are you watching Sharp Objects? Have you read the book? Are you enjoying the ride so far? Do you love the visuals or do you LOVE the visuals? Is detective Richard as sexy as you pictured in the book?

More about Rebecca

Rebecca is a neo-noir author from Kamloops, British Columbia. Her first collection of gritty short fiction, Vile Men was published by Dark House Press in 2015. She also writes about her writer lifestyle on her personal blog at rebeccajoneshowe.com

2 thoughts on “Sharp Objects: The Sharpest Part of Summer

  1. Emily Slaney

    Yes! I am loving it, and I LOVE the visuals! Sharp Objects is one of my favourite books, and when I heard they were making a series I was super excited and then super anxious that they wouldn’t keep it as dark, because let’s be honest it cuts close to the bone in many ways that films and TV will often soft up. Thankfully it delivers on all counts above and beyond expectations. The tension and relationships and drop drip drip of information – such a gorgeous slow burn. And YEs, the Easter eggs! The website Vulture has a blog of pictures of all the hidden words thats updated after each episode which is pretty cool. I do think it’s better to read the book first, I would have loved to have read Gone Girl before seeing the film, and discovered that twist via immersive pages instead (plus as good as the film is, it still doesn’t quite equally portray the darkness on both sides). The Dark Places film was just a total awful disappointment, I hope maybe that can be turned into a limited series at some point that does it justice.

    Reply

    1. Rebecca

      I check the Vulture blog every so often. I caught so many words in the first episode but I’ve missed so many in the other four.

      GONE GIRL was such a thrill after that twist. It was a real shock. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. One thing I will say about Gone Girl is that the last quarter of the book really lost momentum flipping back and forth between Nick and Amy every chapter. The movie really did a better job of the story’s resolution, but I think that’s just the strength of cinema.

      Reply

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