In Sharp Objects, the central mystery revolves around the deaths of Natalie and Ann, two girls who were strangled, and then had all their teeth pulled out. But their deaths are the reason Camille comes back, they're not the reason she left. One of the main reasons Camille ran away from her home of Wind Gap was the death of a different girl, her sister Marian. How did Marian die on Sharp Objects? So far the show hasn't been very forthcoming. Warning: Spoilers for Sharp Objects follow.
Marian is shown in the early episode flashbacks to be mama's little girl. Camille was Adora's firstborn. We don't know what happened to Papa Preaker, but within a few years of Camille's birth, she'd married Alan Crellin and had Marian. In Camille's memories, Adora dotes on the younger sister, leaving her older daughter out in the cold.
What's not evident in the early episodes, but comes forth a little later is Marian was sickly. She was one of those children who catch every sickness, the kid in elementary school who misses out for weeks because she's in and out of the hospital. Adora's devotion to Marian is less about favoritism and more about the fear of losing her sickly little girl.
Or is it? Warning: Spoilers for the Sharp Objects novel follow.
In the novel, Adora is shown hovering over her sickly daughter, bathing her regularly in the tub like a doll, feeding her pills and potions, and continually trekking to hospitals, none of whom have answers for the beautiful yet distressed mother and her pliant prop.
By the time the reveal comes, it's almost anti-climatic when readers learn there was nothing wrong with Marian at all, nothing that couldn't be fixed by having her mother leave her alone anyway. Marian wasn't sick, her mother was. Adora suffers from a disorder which used to be known as "Munchausen syndrome by proxy."
Munchausen syndrome is a mental disorder where a patient repeatedly acts as if they have a physical or mental illness when they are not really sick. It is referred to as a "factitious disorder," where a person is emotionally driven for one reason or another to create physical symptoms as a form of acting out to display their emotional distress. The "By Proxy" version is when someone does it using someone else in the family instead of themselves as the patient. Usually, it's someone who cannot speak for themselves, like a child or an elderly person.
Today the disease has been renamed to FDIA, which stands for "Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another." The problem is to make the subject exhibit symptoms, the person suffering from FDIA keeps upping the dosages of whatever vaguely undetectable poison they are using. In this case, Adora pushed too hard and too far with Marian, eventually killing her by accident.
But even with this reveal, this doesn't make Adora the murderer of the two girls in this series. Slowly poisoning someone you love for attention is very different from strangling other people's daughters.
Camille's rebellion and her refusal to be coddled by her mother wasn't just an emotional response to her experience. It was an unconscious refusal to allow herself to be made sick for her mother's neurotic and narcissistic needs. In rebelling, Camille managed to save her own life, but lost her sister.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.