Read a passage from Gillian Flynn's debut novel, a thriller Stephen King hails as an ''admirably nasty piece of work''

By EW Staff
Updated October 03, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
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EDITOR’S NOTE: In Sharp Objects, the first novel by Entertainment Weekly TV critic Gillian Flynn, Chicago journalist Camille Preaker — whose penchant for self-mutilation has left her body a scarred map — is sent back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the murders of several young girls. Did an out-of-towner commit the crimes, as the police chief thinks, or was it a local, as Camille gradually comes to believe? Every day there brings her closer to an answer, but also forces her to relive more of her appalling childhood. In EW’s excerpt, she attends the funeral of one of the girls, uninvited:

My mother was wearing blue to the funeral. Black was hopeless and any other color was indecent. She also wore blue to Marian’s funeral, and so did Marian. She was astonished I didn’t remember this. I remembered Marian being buried in a pale pink dress. This was no surprise. My mother and I generally differ on all things concerning my dead sister.

The morning of the service Adora clicked in and out of rooms on her heels, here spraying perfume, there fastening an earring. I watched and drank hot black coffee with a burnt tongue.

”I don’t know them well,” she was saying. ”They really kept to themselves. But I feel all the community should support them. Natalie was such a darling. People were so kind to me when….” Wistful downward glance. It may have been genuine.

I had been in Wind Gap five days and Amma was still an unseen presence. My mother didn’t mention her. I’d also failed so far to get a quote from the Keenes. Nor had I gotten permission from the family to attend the funeral, but Curry wanted that coverage more than anything I’d ever heard him want anything, and I wanted to prove I could handle this. I figured the Keenes would never find out. No one reads our paper.

Murmured greetings and perfumed hugs at Our Lady of Sorrows, a few women nodding politely at me after they cooed over my mother (so brave of Adora to come) and shoved down to make room for her. Our Lady of Sorrows is a shiny ’70s Cadillac church: bronzy-gold and bejeweled, like a dimestore ring.

Ten minutes till the service, and a line was forming to gain entry to the church. I surveyed the crowded seat holders inside. Something was wrong. There was not one child in the church. No boys in dark trousers, rolling trucks over their mothers’ legs, no girls cradling rag dolls. Not a face younger than fifteen. I didn’t know if it was out of respect for the parents, or fear-driven defense. An instinct to prevent one’s children from being picked as future prey. I pictured hundreds of Wind Gap sons and daughters tucked away in dark den rooms, sucking on the backs of their hands while they watched TV and remained unmarked.

The organ pipes exhaled the muffled tones of ”Be Not Afraid,” and Natalie Keene’s family, until then crying, and hugging, and fussing near the door like one massive failing heart, filed tightly together. Only two men were needed to carry the shiny white coffin. Any more and they would have been bumping into each other.

Natalie’s mother and father led the procession. She was three inches taller than he, a large, warm-looking woman with sandy hair held back by a headband. She had an open face, the kind that would prompt strangers to ask for directions or the time. Mr. Keene was small and thin, with a round child’s face made rounder by wire spectacles that looked like two round gold bike wheels. Behind them walked a beautiful boy of eighteen or nineteen, his brunette head bowed into his chest, sobbing. Natalie’s brother, a woman whispered behind me.

Tears ran down my mother’s cheeks and dripped loudly onto the leather purse she held in her lap. The woman next to her patted her hand. I slipped my notebook from my jacket pocket and began scribbling notes to one side until my mother slapped her hand on mine and hissed, ”You are being disrespectful and embarrassing. Stop or I will make you leave.”

I quit writing but left the pad out, feeling stabbingly defiant. But still blushing.

The procession moved past us. The coffin seemed ludicrously small. I pictured Natalie inside and could see her legs again — downy hair, knobby knees, the Band-Aid. I ached once, hard, like a period typed at the end of a sentence.

A large photo of Natalie perched near the coffin, a more formal photo than I’d seen before. She was a sweet, homely little thing, with a pointy chin and slightly bulbous eyes, the kind of girl who might have grown up to be striking. She could have delighted men with ugly-duckling stories that were actually true. Or she might have remained a sweet, homely little thing. At ten, a girl’s looks are fickle.

”It is a terrible tragedy to lose a child,” intoned the priest. ”It is doubly terrible to lose her to such evil doings. For evil is what they are. The Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But let us not dwell on revenge. Let us think instead of what Jesus urged: Love thy neighbor. Let us be good to our neighbors in this difficult time. Lift up your hearts to God.”

”I liked the eye for an eye stuff better,” grumbled the man behind me.

I wondered if the tooth for a tooth part disturbed anyone else.

All My Children

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