The setting of Sharp Objects is as integral to the story as the characters that populate it. Its central town has a tight-knit community that runs on secrets, assumptions, and gossip, all of which have left protagonist Camille Preaker emotionally damaged. But nothing ignites her past hometown trauma like a visit to her mother's house, a place that typifies and exaggerates all the issues the town has to offer. So where is Sharp Objects set?
Both the Gillian Flynn novel and the upcoming HBO series based on it (which premieres on July 8) are set in Wind Gap, Missouri. As described by Camille in the book, Wind Gap is "at the very bottom of Missouri, in the boot heel. Spitting distance from Tennessee and Arkansas." It's a town that pre-dates the Civil War and its nearness to the Mississippi river made it a port city for a time, but when Camille returned to it, Wind Gap seemed more down on its luck. Home to two thousand people (whom Camille dubbed "old money and trash"), the bulk of its business came from butchering pigs. The largest slaughterhouse was owned by Camille's family, specifically her mother Adora Crellin, so her ties to Wind Gap ran very deep.
Camille was in a unique position throughout the novel, because while she was in many ways the ultimate insider in town, her years spent in Chicago gave her outsider status as well. She could see the hypocrisies of Wind Gap with a slightly more objective eye, but at the same time she was buried in the town's history because her mother was essentially Wind Gap royalty. The ways Camille failed to live up to Adora's unhealthy expectations were part of the foundation of her character, and it all tied into the culture of this Missouri town.
All three of Flynn's novels (which also include Dark Places and Gone Girl) take place in the midwest, perhaps because she herself is from Kansas City, Missouri. But she also feels there's a lot of unexplored ground in that part of the country, telling The Guardian:
The midwest is great because it hasn't been entirely claimed. There's more room to write about it; it's harder to write about New York, because even if you've never been there, you think you know what it's like. To do it in any sort of fresh way is trickier.
Wind Gap is an invented city, but it may feel like an amalgamation of familiar Southern locations. Many aspects of the story play into the Southern Gothic genre, where mystery and ambiance abound. Southern Gothic shares a lot with 19th century Gothic literature like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, though it situates those often-European works in the American south to investigate the qualities unique to that setting.
According to The Huffington Post, Southern Gothic focused on "aristocratic Southern society, in its post-bellum heyday," when they had "erected a similar façade of gentility and custom to hide the way people really lived." The publication went on to explain:
Southern writers like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Tennessee Williams contrasted these customs with grotesque caricatures and shocking imagery to amplify the contradictions of Southern society.
Flynn did the same thing with Sharp Objects, particularly when zeroing in on Camille's family. Their soft-voiced pastel existence enhanced and undercut the many secrets they were keeping. "I tricked people into reading about women and violence and rage and what that looked like in three different generations of women," Flynn told The Hollywood Reporter. "That's what I wanted to write about, and I figured out I could do it if I coated it in this yummy Southern Gothic mystery."
Wind Gap informs everything that happens in Sharp Objects, making it an important factor in the mysteries that unfold.