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We can't image a day worse than the one Libby had on January 2, 1985. She was seven when she woke up and found her mother and two sisters slaughtered, their blood and guts everywhere—and on top of that, her brother, Ben, just may have done it. Libby ran away and hid in a field so long she lost three toes and half a ring finger to frostbite. This event left life-long scars, physical and emotional. No surprise there.
It goes without saying that this type of event isn't easy to get over, but we're going to say it anyway: dealing with the murder of your family isn't easy to get over.
Dark Places is about Libby coming out of a dark place and learning to live her life again. At the beginning, she talks about how awful of a person she is. "Draw a picture of my soul, and it'd be a scribble with fangs" (1.2), she says, and "I've been depressed for about twenty-four years" (1.4). In case it isn't obvious, Libby hates herself. As one result, she dyes her hair from its natural blonde to red to hide from her Day identity. Victim by Day, new woman by blonde.
When Libby meets Lyle Wirth, she sees two opportunities. Well, that's kind of what Libby is best at: finding opportunities and exploiting them. In this case, she realizes she can make some dough. As someone unashamed to play the victim card, Libby hasn't had a real job in years. She capitalizes off her victim status, writing books and charging for appearances. Lyle is a new funder for her. She gets around $2500 from him for a few weeks' work, making her "set for a good four months." (14.13) Apparently Kansas has the cheapest rent ever.
Libby finds another way she can also make money is to sell off family artifacts—letters, pictures, and more. Not only does this make a few quick bucks, but it's Libby's way of getting rid of her past… by literally getting rid of it. However, she isn't actually confronting her past before she gets rid of it. You don't need us to tell you that that's going to pose a bit of a problem. (But it's going to pose a problem. Keep reading.)
When Libby isn't getting rid of family junk, she's stealing other people's junk. "I am a liar and a thief," (5.2) she says bluntly, and she steals everywhere she goes—for example, lipstick from someone's bathroom, shaking it like a saltshaker in restaurants. Perhaps this is Libby's way of filling the hole left inside her by everything she is giving away, or never had.
One big gaping hole Libby has is that she believes her brother killed her family. As she talks to more people, at Lyle's insistence, she starts to believe Ben didn't do it. That's something she hadn't bargained on thinking about. "Jarring new mental phrasing," she observes, "'when the murders happened,' as opposed to 'when Ben killed everyone'" (8.23).
When she first visits Ben in the jail, she can't bear to put her hand on the glass. After the first visit, when she sees him as human and not a killer, she puts "one tip of [her] finger" on the glass (8.45). Progress.
As her investigation continues, Libby discovers that Ben actually didn't do it. His girlfriend Diondra killed Michelle, and a man hired by her mother, Patty, killed Patty (on purpose) and then Debby (because she witnessed him kill her mother). Ironically, Libby's kleptomania saves the day. She steals some lipstick and a thermometer while she's in Diondra's bathroom, which eventually gives the police the necessary DNA evidence to link Diondra to the crime. Wow.
On her last visit to jail, Libby "matched palms" (40.37) with Ben, creating a connection between them, and maybe a sign that they're going to be able to rebuild their relationship as brother and sister. We last see Libby driving past the old family home, the scene of so much bloodshed. It's been bought and a new family is living there. Libby "stay[s] away from Darkplace" (41.14) and decides to just be "some woman" (41.14).
She means that she is no longer going to be a victim, and make money off being a victim. She is going to be Libby Day… whoever that is. She's been so defined by this crime, we're not sure who she really is at all, even after everything is over. What do you think her life will be like after the final page?
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