Study Guide

Patty Day in Dark Places

By Gillian Flynn

Patty Day

St. Patty's Day

Patty Day is a single mother with a deadbeat ex-husband, four kids, and a farm. Her mantra each morning is, "Today I won't yell, I won't cry, I won't clench up into a ball like I am waiting for a blow to level me. I will enjoy today" (2.35). Life is hard, and Patty tends to survive it more than live it.

She thinks she's failed her son, Ben. We're not sure if "failed" is the right word, but he definitely doesn't respect her, thinking she "Couldn't run the farm right" (4.9).

Other farmers don't have sympathy for the Days, either. Even after Patty is murdered, she isn't idolized like many victims are. She's demonized. People start thinking she's a slut and a "wanton woman" (6.2). Maybe it's because people believe her son killed her? What kind of terrible woman would raise a son that would kill her?

Despite her failings, Patty tries to do the best for her kids. Unfortunately, she's tired. She's avoidant. And the odds are stacked against her. When the rumors about Ben molesting a girl surface, it's the last straw for Patty. "She wanted the stories to go away, nice and quiet, creep backward into oblivion" (17.51). But they won't.

To her credit, Patty doesn't creep away, either. Her sister Diane is often around to help out, but Patty does what she can to protect Ben all by herself. She burns underpants she finds in Ben's room, which might be evidence. She uses the axe to chop wood to burn the clothes. She loads the shotgun to protect the family from Runner. She's not a weakling. As we said, she knows how to survive.

Best Laid Plans

If you're paying attention, you'll notice something. And if you're not, we noticed it for you. Patty leaves all the murder weapons in plain sight. The shotgun and the axe are turned against her family in the end. It's an end orchestrated by Patty: she pays a man to kill her, so that her family can collect the life insurance. After making this deal to die, she thinks, "For the first time in a decade, she wasn't worrying" (29.11). They won't have to worry about groceries, and if Ben needs a lawyer, that'll be covered too.

Everything Patty does backfires. Debby sees Patty being killed, so Calvin Diehl, the hit man, kills Debby with an axe and uses the shotgun to finish off Patty. Everything Patty did to protect her children backfires against them. Her last thoughts are, "I wish, I wish, I wish I could take this back" (35.7). Her fate is sad and tragic, and it's almost enough to make us wonder why a person should even try. Patty Day did her best, and her best, frankly, wasn't good enough. What else could she have done?