Study Guide

Dark Places Memories and the Past

By Gillian Flynn

Memories and the Past

There'll be a lot of collectors there, so bring any souvenirs, uh, items from your childhood you might want to sell. […] Letters especially. The more personal the better, obviously. (1.116)

Libby literally sells pieces of her past to make money. On the other hand, don't memoirists do the same thing, but by selling stories instead of tangible artifacts?

She didn't usually move when we got in bed with her, but that night I remember she turned to me so quickly I thought she was angry. Instead she grabbed me and squeezed me, kissed my forehead. Told me she loved me. She hardly ever told us she loved us. That's why I remember it, or think I do, unless I added that for comfort after the fact. But we'll say she told me she loved me, and that I fell immediately back to sleep. (3.153)

This is one of the few nice memories that Libby has. Notice, though, how she says "or think I do." Her memory isn't reliable. Much later in the book, of course, we learn from a Patty chapter that this nice memory is, in fact, a true one. Dark Places has tiny moments of sunshine after all.

I sat upright in the yellow electricity. Pulled myself out of our murder house and back to my grown-up bedroom. (3.164)

Speaking of Dark Places, this line is a good example of Libby going to a dark place. Her world literally gets dark. Note that she sits "upright in the yellow electricity." Coming back to the present from the past is like someone turned the lights on.

Patty's older sister, Diane, had pierced Patty's ears in this bathroom two decades ago. (6.2)

This is an interesting memory from Patty. It's one of those rare fond memories, but this one is bittersweet, because it's a fond memory that her daughter won't get to have. Libby's sisters are murdered, so she has no older sister to pierce her ears. (And we guess she never takes the time to go to Claire's in the mall….)

I needed to be able to look at basic household possessions without panicking. […] Look at them, let them just be objects. (6.3)

Maybe this is another reason Libby sells stuff from her past. Yeah, she needs the cash, but by getting rid of all this stuff, she also gets rid of potential triggers.

[Ben] thought about opening the door, wandering through the silence on the other side, and then that's what he was doing. Just saying hi to the old place. (7.44)

Ben feels like an outcast at school, so he imagines walking to the elementary school as if he's literally traveling into the past. The things is, though, that he can't ever go back.

I tried to find that bunny in my memory, tried to inventory the bathroom and the things in it, but I came out with nothing, a handful of water. (8.44)

This is a vivid image of memory being like water slipping through Libby's fingers. Of course, this being a Gillian Flynn book, this is a handful of toilet water we're talking about. Maybe it's for the best that Libby can't hang on to her gross memories….

Since I was seven, I pictured [Ben] in the same haunted-house flashes: Ben, black-haired, smooth-faced, with his hands clasped around an axe, charging down the hall at Debby, a humming noise coming from his tight lips. (10.1)

For Libby, this is a very clear memory. But it's completely made up. As we see from the Ben and Patty chapters, this never happened. Perhaps when Libby was being coached for trial as a kid, she started to believe that this actually happened, and it became cemented in her memory.

I rummaged through more notes, putting the boring, inane ones aside for the Kill Club, missing my sisters, laughing at some of them, the strange worries we had, the coded messages, the primitive drawings, the lists of people we liked and didn't like. I'd forgotten we were tight, the Day girls. (14.26)

As she's grown older, Libby has held on to the negative memories and forgotten the positive ones. Perhaps if she'd confronted the physical artifacts of the past sooner, she would have been reminded of these nice things as well.

I'd have never thought of Yellow 5 again without Ben reminding me. I wanted to tell him to make a list of things to recall, memories I couldn't pluck out of my brain on my own. (18.33)

Yellow 5 is a weirdly named bull calf that Libby forgot about. This is one of the best parts of having a sibling to talk to, even if you do think he's a murderer—together, you've got a shared memory bank.

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