I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik
Published by William Morrow on March 3rd 2015
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The Secret History meets Sharp Objects in this stunning debut about murder and glamour set in the ambiguous and claustrophobic world of an exclusive New England prep school.
Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and quickly—a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession—but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed.
Dropping out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer.
Compulsively readable, Lili Anolik’s debut novel combines the verbal dexterity of Marisha Pessl’s Special Topic in Calamity Physics and the haunting atmospherics and hairpin plot twists of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me
‘I hauled my body along, through the trees, over the fence, toward what I knew–knew because it was there, all of it, in that piercing mechanical wail, knew because it was prophesied in my dream, as elusive as a scent, a shadow, a ghost, knew because it was written in the very blood flowing through my veins—would be as bad as it gets.’
Grace and Nica both attend Chandler Academy, a private boarding school in Hartford, Connecticut where their parents are also teachers. Grace was always the quiet sister the resided within the shadow of her younger and wilder sister Nica until a bullet took her life and left Grace suddenly alone. She is troubled by not only her absence, the realization on how much she relied upon her sister but also a sense of bewilderment about who she is supposed to be without her. Grace develops a pill habit that quickly spirals out of control causing her to drop out of college and remain at home. After Nica’s death is pinned on a student who recently committed suicide, Grace doesn’t believe it to be true. After she finds evidence that he couldn’t possibly have killed her she determines it’s up to her to find out who really did.
Dark Rooms is a debut novel and while it had some pacing issues and the occasional hiccup, it was quite the engrossing tale. As far as the previously mentioned hiccups, the investigation itself which spans the majority of the novel felt generally ‘off’. When Grace would discover a clue she would either connect the dots in a way that left me completely confounded or would often jump to the strangest and most outlandish conclusions. View Spoiler »One example in particular when Grace was asking about why Nica had dumped her long-term boyfriend and she’s simply told, “Why don’t you ask your mother”, Grace immediately assumes her mother was having an affair with her sister’s boyfriend. « Hide Spoiler The one saving grace is that the main character recognized exactly what she was doing:
‘I’ve been pretending I know, careening from conviction to conviction like a human pinball, setting off every light and spark and bell, absolutely positive about one thing, then absolutely positive about another. But, the truth is, the only thing I’m absolutely positive about is that I don’t know anything at all.’
It put a new spin on her outlandish conclusions: she was desperate and grasping at straws to find the answers to her sister’s death that was plaguing her with uneasiness. There was also another (spoilery) reason for her desperation to complete the investigation and when you took a step back and really looked at what she was going through it ended up making at least a modicum of sense in the madness. The secrets and reasoning behind Nica’s death were dark enough to live up to the title but the additions regarding Nica being her mother’s muse in her photography and the lines that were constantly being crossed with her practically stalking her to take candid photos felt a bit gratuitous in the end. This story was a complete knockout as far as the writing is concerned and is definitely worth a read for that alone.
Dark Rooms is a mixture of somber tales in suburbia, a murder/mystery thriller and a coming of age novel. Comparisons to The Secret History, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, and even Megan Abbott are what initially intrigued me about this novel. The similarities to Sharp Objects is fairly accurate with the story of the seemingly normal teenage girls and the dark family secrets that inevitably change their very makeup but didn’t completely live up to that comparison. All in all, big name comparisons generally always do the book a disservice and while Dark Rooms isn’t a perfect clone, fans of those novels will definitely find some thrill within these pages as I certainly did.