The protagonist of this brutally honest novel is not a likeable person: “Draw a picture of my soul and it would be scribble with fangs.” But Libby Day, survivor of a 1985 family massacre (“The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas”), is a product of a barely nurturing environment.
Twenty-five years after the crime that leaves her mother and two sisters dead and her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, in jail for the murders, Libby can hardly get out of bed each day. Some days she doesn’t. With a no-good father who leaves the family to fend for themselves on a family farm, Libby is the youngest of four.
Libby’s mother, Patty, is about to lose the farm she inherited from her father, desperate and out of options when tragedy strikes that cold January night in 1985. Libby, the only survivor besides Ben, hides out nearby until the house is quiet, empty but for the brutally slain bodies of her sister and mother, a bloody scenes of chaos and murder.
Now Libby is near the end of the meager trust set up by concerned citizens, her only opportunity for increasing her income provided by a bizarre group, the Kill Club. A loose association of true-crime aficionados, the Kill Club offers to finance Libby’s efforts to redress the wrongs to her incarcerated brother, Ben, who has spent the last twenty-five years in jail for the murders.
In fact, Libby was the primary witness, a seven-year old child carefully groomed for her appearance on the stand at the trial. The minimally functional adult Libby is finally willing to entertain the idea that much of her testimony was based on memories that don’t hold up to scrutiny: “Since then I’ve been waiting to die.” But if Ben didn’t kill her family, someone else did. Once Libby opens this Pandora’s Box, there is no closing the lid on the consequences.
Flynn’s approach to her novel is akin to blunt-force trauma. She doesn’t shirk from the ugly realities of the Days’ existence - the hand-me-down clothes, shabby living conditions, the chaos of four children, and a mother who cannot cope with the daily burdens of the farm.
Considering her background, Libby is an unusual protagonist. She is bitter, a liar, a thief and a manipulator, unstrung by the events that destroyed whatever meager life she enjoyed as a child. Ruled by her demons and her fears, Libby’s approach to her task is fractious, volatile, anxious and ill-tempered. She reluctantly contacts Ben and follows the other leads she encounters along the way, and the answers she finds are as disturbing as the freezing January night her family was murdered.
Even Ben is an enigma, refusing to reveal the dark secrets that propelled his teenaged angst, an angry young man in a house of screeching sisters and an ineffective mother. But Flynn is fearless, blunt in a way that most authors resist, driving relentlessly through the shocking pages of the novel with little care for niceties, stripping away the domestic façade, exposing the heart of poverty and desperation. All that is left is a thin blanket to comfort the damaged souls who cower in the wake of a stunning crime.