The Shadows of Parenting Present Themselves
Sharp Objects: A Grim Picture of Motherhood
Before she wrote about Amy Dunne and Nick Dunne’s torrid marriage in Gone Girl, author Gillian Flynn wrote about parenting and motherhood in her debut novel. Camille Preaker is the protagonist, a daughter from the small southern town of Wind Gap charged with the task of writing about the murder of a young girl and the abduction of another in her hometown.
She is requested to do so by her boss, Curry, who almost acts as a surrogate father to her. He sees that Camille has talent but no passion, and hopes that having her write about her hometown will give her story an edge and will help her work through the struggles he notices in her. The clues are scattered, and when the body of the girl abducted is found, it is found that both girls are missing six teeth.
While in Wind Gap, we see just how much Camille’s mother Adora affected her sisters. Adora is a controlling, narcissistic, manipulative woman, who treats her daughters as dolls and discards Camille when she doesn’t want to fit her mold. Aside from trying to control their behavior, Adora also wants to control them physically. As the story continues, and the truth of the murder of a young girl in the town unravels, we learn more of Adora’s control and her methods.
Camille Preaker said it best herself in the novel. “A child weaned on poison considers hurt a comfort.” (Flynn). The story exists to show the poison that a neglectful or abusive mother can be for a child, and how that child will take that treatment as they go out into the world. Adora always preferred Camille’s younger sister Marian over her, who was a lot more girly and sweet than the bold and rebellious Camille. Marian was a sickly child, and she died of an unspecified illness at a young age. This only further fractured Camille and Adora’s relationship.
Camille, now a reporter, returns to her small hometown at the behest of her boss. She reluctantly faces her demons, and lives in her childhood home with her mother, stepfather, and half sister Amma. Becoming closer with Amma is painful for Camille, as she is constantly reminded of the sister she lost.
Adora is just as controlling and manipulative of Amma as she was with Marian. Amma acts like the perfect child when with her, and becomes the wild, drinking and drugging teenager she actually is when out of the house. She tells Camille that it’s “easier” to let Amma treat her like a doll, dress her in childish clothing and indulge in her fantasies. Amma pretends to care about a dollhouse that Adora bought her when she was younger, possessive over the house the way a young child would be, despite her age.
Adora’s husband is hardly even a presence in the house, constantly obsessing over his records and closed off from the world while listening to music. He is barely a plot point in the story, showing that an obsessive mother and an emotionally absent father makes the best poison.
Adora consistently coddles, desperately wanting to be needed by her daughters as if they were still toddlers. Camille despised this sort of attention, and in response, Adora turned to Marian and then Amma, as they allowed this treatment. In the novel, Camille laments, “I always feel sad for the girl that I was, because it never occurred to me that my mother might comfort me.” (Flynn).
Adora’s love was entirely conditional, and she never fails to lob comments at Camille to hurt her further when she returns home. Camille already was dealing with a lot, having a drinking problem and a consistent habit of self-harming that once put her in a mental health facility. She writes words onto her skin with razors or anything sharp, a compulsion that has marred her body. Some of the words are things that Adora has said to her, some that she believes about herself.
Adora is completely passive towards her problems, and sees every struggle as entirely Camille’s fault, as if her issues only existed to slight her and her mothering skills. She berates Camille’s position as a reporter, viewing her story on the missing girl and murder of another in the town as an evil job only meant to spread more harm than good.
The longer Camille stays in Wind Gap, the more we see of Adora’s poisonous words and actions. We also see, unfortunately, how this affects Amma and her behavior.
A benefit of the HBO miniseries in comparison to the book is the full immersion in the setting. The viewer can see just how desolate and isolated Wind Gap is, and how little there is to do but loiter and drink in the town. Every visual of Wind Gap speaks to just how hard it would be to grow up there without a supportive and loving family. There is no escape offered. The landscape is unforgiving, with the people even less so.
While Sharp Objects is a brilliant debut novel, the structure of the story and its perspective limits the impact of Adora’s abuse. The story is in first person, and we only learn as much as Camille is willing to share. Most of the time, she isn’t willing to share much. In the miniseries, we get glimpses of Adora’s parenting and faults before we even understand it. We see her tight smiles, her impassive face. The miniseries also offers up Camille herself for the viewer, where we can see the amount of scars she bears from self-harming. How she pricks herself with a needle while driving.
A Mother’s Love
Camille learns first hand just how manipulative and two-faced Amma can be, a perfect shadow of her mother. Amma fools her mother and constantly gets herself into trouble, leading her pack of friends who follow her like loyal dogs. Camille tries to keep an eye on her while in town, and goes to a party with her.
After the party, Camille wakes to Adora taking care of her, in the smothering and coddling way that she took care of Amma and Marian. Camille had a hangover, but Adora insists that she is very ill. She tells her eerily that she had been waiting for Camille to need her. Adora gives her pills, which make Camille very sick. She is weakened by the pills her mother won’t name, and is panicking as she realizes that she is making everything worse.
Camille turns over her memories, and realizes that Adora also gives Amma the same pills. Amma grows restless and wild in the house, speaking incoherently and looking sicker by the minute. When sneaking around the house and rifling through the old papers in Marian’s room, Camille learns that Marian was a completely healthy child. The nurse that took care of Marian shared these suspicions in Marian’s files, and Adora promptly removed Marian from the care of doctors to take care of her herself.
Marian died of the mystery illness, which was never really hers, but Adora’s. Camille makes herself throw up to rid herself of the medicine, and realizes with horror that Adora treated Marian similarly. If it weren’t for Camille’s perceptiveness and cynicism towards her mother, she might have died. A weakened Camille is saved by Richard, the investigator on the case who sensed something was up when Camille disappeared.
Adora has Munchausen syndrome, something that she would never admit or see as an issue. In her eyes, she is taking care of her children, who are sick. With Muncahusen syndrome, a person, typically a mother, makes their child sick and takes care of them as if they were actually sick. The appearance of a sickly child is there, but the mother has the control and can make the child as dependent on them as they please. Adora is charged with the murder of Marian and the two other girls in the town. Camille takes Amma to her home in Chicago, where the two try to heal from the pain brought on by their mother.
Everything seems to be going fine, until a girl at the school Amma attends is found murdered, with six teeth pulled. Amma’s dollhouse, the one that Adora and her poured and bonded over, holds the teeth of the two girls in one of the rooms’ floors. Amma was jealous of the attention that Adora gave the two girls, as they constantly visited Adora because of her motherly nature. Amma, a child weaned on poison, spread the poison outside of the Preaker home.
Camille seems to be the only child of Adora’s to get out of the cycle. Her boss and her wife, whom she is very close to, take her in after Amma is arrested. They take her in as their own, and she is then treated with love instead of hate, as she had been as a child.
Sharp Objects is all about the neglect, passiveness, pain, and poison of parenting, specifically motherhood. Through the eyes of Camille, we are able to see her journey of loving herself and her inner child, hurt and lost at the hands of her mother. Thanks to Curry and his wife, and Camille’s working through her demons while in Wind Gap, her inner child can begin to heal.
Sharp Objects (2018) Teaser Trailer
|Madelyn Whelan attends Merrimack College and studies English with a concentration in creative writing, with a minor in interdisciplinary film studies. She wants to be an author, focusing on fiction and poetry. After graduation, she wants to go on to get her master’s degree in creative writing.|