In HBO's newest literary adaptation, Amy Adams' damaged reporter returns to her hometown to solve a vicious crime; but can she solve two while she's at it? How did Camille's sister die in Sharp Objects? That question isn't the main mystery at the heart of the miniseries — that would be the murders of two young girls — but the untimely death of Camille's beloved sister remains a question mark from the past, brooding over the modern day proceedings. Are the two events connected? And was Marian's death the result of a tragic illness… or could it have been a murder, like the ones currently rocking the town of Wind Gap, Missouri?
The trope of a detective/journalist/other protagonist investigating a crime that may or may not be related to a tragedy in their own past is an effective one that audiences may recognize from movies like Mystic River and books like Tana French's In The Woods. This format lends the story a sense of weight through history, and an additional level of mystery to be unraveled in tandem with the main plot. In the case of Sharp Objects, it's clear from the start that there's something very wrong within the dysfunctional Preaker family; the question is, to what lengths might their own traumatic legacy be shaping the events currently rocking Wind Gap?
Major spoilers for the Sharp Objects novel ahead!
That traumatic legacy involves Camille's younger half-sister, Marian. When they were kids, Marian was frequently ill and received the lion's share of the attention from their aloof mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson in the series). While Adora was cold and distant with Camille, she doted on the frail Marian, constantly plying her with medicines and pills, bathing her in the bathtub, and taking her for examinations in the hospital — examinations which always yielded few answers, but much attention for the suffering young girl and her beautiful, anguished mother.
After many accounts of Marian's frequent illnesses, it likely comes as no shock to the reader to learn that Adora suffers from Munchhausen syndrome by proxy — although it comes as a shock to Camille, who has long denied the ugly truth at the heart of her family. (Television audiences may have most recently encountered an account of this condition through the acclaimed HBO documentary, Mommy Dead And Dearest.)
Eventually, Marian succumbed to the recurring poisonings and passed away. Young Camille escaped this fate because she refused to be coddled when sick, leading her mother to give up on her stubborn firstborn and sink her claws into the more pliable Marian instead. But when her beloved sister died, Camille moved away, relocating to Chicago, and has maintained an icy distance with her mother ever since.
As memories of Marian's illnesses and death resurface, Camille starts to wonder: if her mother was capable of doing that to her own daughter, is she also capable of murdering two other young girls all these years later? As tragic and awful as it is, Munchausen by proxy is a far cry from strangling someone with your bare hands and pulling out all of their teeth with pliers afterwards. So are Marian's death and the recent murders more — or less — connected than they initially appear?
Given that Sharp Objects is a novel by Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl, viewers probably shouldn't make too many assumptions. Just when you think you've solved the case, another twist might be lying in wait to blindside you and change everything you thought you knew. There's a lot to untangle in the dark web of Wind Gap, and a survivor like Camille is just the person to do it.