Gillian Flynn insists she never even considered changing the ending of Sharp Objects to shock faithful readers who had tuned in to the show. The book was published over a decade ago and its double-twist ending probably wasn’t well-known; some authors might jump at the chance to have another go at their first novel. But Flynn kept the bones of the story intact. “We were all in agreement that we wanted it to be faithful to the book,” she explained in a Vulture interview. “Changing it would be sort of mystifying.”
Adora is still found out as a Munchausen by proxy murderer (a diagnosis many of us first learned about from a young, ghostly Mischa Barton in The Sixth Sense) and sent to prison. Amma is sent to the city to live with Camille, where she struggles to acclimate, but makes a new friend. Camille briefly senses that life may be settling into a manageable rhythm. And then the new friend ends up dead, and Amma’s the one who murdered her. We don’t see Mae’s body on the show — only a flash of the death scene in the end credits — but the book offers a vivid description of her body “propped tidily next to a Dumpster … Only six of her teeth had been pulled, the oversized front two and four on the bottom.” Presumably, Amma ran out of time.
Despite leaving the framing intact, however, the tone of the show’s ending wildly diverges from the novel’s. The novel and the show soften the story in different places, but ultimately, the book gives Camille a sense of closure that she lacks onscreen.
But before we get to that end, the show amps up the drama, namely with Richard’s rescue scene. In the novel, Camille allows her mother to poison her, albeit not nearly to the same degree. She takes “a glass of bluish milk” from her mother, drinking it while thinking, “either the drink makes me sick and I know I’m not insane, or it doesn’t, and I know I’m a hateful creature.” Two days later, after explaining to Richard that she believes it was her mother who killed Marian, Ann, and Natalie — and Richard tells her he has a warrant to come the next day and search the house — she accepts a glass of liquid that “smells like brown apples.” She’s sick and feverish, and wakes up in her own urine. But she’s never near death, and she doesn’t call out for Richard, or send Amma to go find him like she does in the show. Camille accepts that the pills and mysterious “milky” medicine may hurt her, but she also knows that Richard will be coming by. She offers herself as a body for a toxicology report, not a potential victim. And Richard doesn’t metaphorically break down the door to discover where his lover has been secreted. He walks in, standard operating procedure, warrant in hand.
In the novel, Camille also has no closure with Richard. She never sees him again after he comes in and discovers her in a robe, asking (not very subtly), “What’s wrong with you? You’re a cutter?” There is no apology in the hospital room, no soft parting. Camille remains as convinced of her body’s ability to repel as she was before.
In the book, Camille and Amma also live together (St. Louis on the show, Chicago in the book), but it’s not the smile-inducing, magical musical montage that the show provides. Instead, Amma is “wildly needy and afire with anxiety.” She cultivates an obsession with female serial killers, which her therapist attributes to Amma “trying to find a way to forgive her mother.” She slaps Camille for buying the wrong color upholstery for her dollhouse. The two don’t share a teary but languorous ride to Adora’s prison cell, where they hug and share sisterly glances. Instead, it’s Camille who later visits Amma in prison, where she asks for the answers we never get in the show.
Camille promises herself she won’t ask about the killings, but the questions pour out of her. Amma explains that first the girls were her friends and they had fun: “We were wild. We’d hurt things together. We killed a cat once.” But then Adora began to take an interest in them. “They weren’t my secrets anymore,” she says. “They started asking questions about me being sick. They were going to ruin everything.” Camille makes her own assumptions, too — that Amma killed the girls out of jealousy. It’s a scene that works on the page, but would feel awfully heavy-handed on the screen. These are things we already know, or at least implicitly understand. Amma can’t bring herself to turn on her mother because she got her own sick enjoyment out of the attention that accompanied the fevers and vomiting and days in bed. Unlike Marian, Amma played along. It’s no coincidence that Amma rearranged is simply Mama.
As for Camille herself, the aftermath of Amma and Adora’s imprisonment leaves her weak and susceptible in the novel. And here is where the ending of the show really whisks away a chance at Camille’s redemption — or possible slide into the family disease. The day Amma is arrested in the novel, Camille slips a knife up her sleeve and finally cuts into the one part of her body she has left pure. “In the bathroom,” she explains, “I stripped off my shirt and dug it deep into the perfect circle on my back. Ground it back and forth until the skin was shredded in scribbly cuts. Curry broke in just before I went for my face.” There is no mention or glimpse of the “perfect circle” on the show, but it functioned in the novel as a metaphor for her restraint, that she always managed to keep it uncut (mainly because it was so difficult to reach).
By cutting things off just after Camille sees the teeth in Amma’s dollhouse floor, the show doesn’t let us see that Curry then takes Camille into his home, where she says she is “learning to be cared for.” It’s impossible to discern if she is learning to be just like Marian and Amma, or if she’s simply letting her guard down. Eileen and Curry treat her like their child. They wake her and put her to bed “with kisses.” Eileen runs her baths and brushes her hair.
The last few lines of the article that Camille writes and Curry reads aloud on the show are actually the last lines of the novel. “Was I good at caring for Amma because of kindness? Or did I like caring for Amma because I have Adora’s sickness? I waver between the two, especially at night, when my skin begins to pulse.
Lately, I’ve been leaning towards kindness.”
The Camille of the show may be about to head off into an even uglier place — we just don’t know — but the Camille of the novel at least retains an ounce of hope.