Sunday, March 20, 2016


by Caroline Kepnes

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.
There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.
As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

My Reaction:
I saw a recommendation of You as a real page-turner and was intrigued by the premise, though it is not the type of thing I usually read.  Modern setting.  Way too much casual cursing-- left, right, and center.  Fairly graphic sex (including some gross-me-out stuff).  Sometimes depressing; frequently dark-- yet often humorous, too.  Oh, and did I mention it's told from the point of view of a murderous stalker addressing the object of his creepy passion?

Yes, it's quite a departure from my typical fare, but I found it compulsively readable.  I wouldn't want to read only dark novels about some psycho's all-consuming obsession with another weird person-- in fact, I'm eager for something completely different, now, to cleanse the palate-- but an occasional foray into this type of modern thriller is undeniably... invigorating.

While skimming a few reviews of this series (yes, this is the first of at least two novels about Joe Goldberg, and apparently the author is selling the story to Showtime, which is very interesting...), I saw someone describe it as Dexter meets House of Cards.  I agree that there are elements of both, though Joe makes Dexter seem like a well-balanced, upstanding citizen, by comparison!  (He's certainly much more likable, as a character.)  The sleaziness of most of the characters does remind me of House of Cards, though. (g)

Speaking of sleazy characters, I know I'm not the only one who found herself disliking Beck at least as much as Joe.  Not to say that she deserves to be stalked, but she spends most of the book being unlikable and irritating; she only gets worse as the story progresses.  Joe, on the other hand... I found my opinion of him shifting and wavering through the whole book.  One minute, he disgusts you.  The next, you're feeling a little sorry for him-- maybe even hoping something goes right for him (though you always know that he's not a good guy)-- only to find yourself angry or disgusted again, before you've even turned the page.

If you can look past the violence and vulgarity (and honestly, I found the vulgarity more off-putting than the violence, though perhaps I shouldn't admit it-- but there's just so much more of it), there's an interesting story there.  It's not the kind of thing I could recommend without caveat... It will leave you feeling dirty by association-- numerous times.  It's not a "best thing I've ever read" book, but it keeps the pages turning, and it makes you think about social media/privacy and how vulnerable people are to those who will balk at nothing to get what they want.

Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--  Joe's low opinion of the Kindle was of course interesting to me, as a Kindle user.  Apparently e-readers are bringing about the downfall of civilization (or something) because you can be reading any piece-of-garbage novel you like without anyone being any the wiser.  You don't have to be silently judged by the snooty cashier at the local bookstore.  Your embarrassing fondness for trashy books is safely hidden from the rest of the world.  For all they know, you're reading Shakespeare on the bus, but in reality it's a worthless modern equivalent of the penny dreadful!

--  Because so much of the book relies on current technology and social media, I found myself wondering how well the book will hold up as the years pass.  However, I read so little contemporary literature that I can't really compare it to other books.  Maybe this is the the norm, these days-- frequent references to Twitter and Facebook and MacBook Air and iPhones, etc.  Maybe it's not any different than books from previous decades referring to typewriters, for instance, though the the potential for "datedness" does seem heavier, in this case.

--  " wrote about old actors because of the photography books in your apartment, so many pictures of places you can't go because they aren't there anymore.  You're a romantic, searching for a Coney Island minus the drug dealers and the gum wrappers and an innocent California where real cowboys and fake cowboys traded stories over tin cups of coffee they called joe.  You want to go places you can't go."  Well, I think that's true for a lot of us-- particularly those of us who love old books or movies.  We're not necessarily all yearning for "innocent California", but maybe some other idealized place and time that never even really existed outside of nostalgia and someone's imagination.

--  "Don't put that out in the universe."  I hate the trend of people talking/writing about "the universe", like it's this conscious being-- like it's a cooler substitute for the old-fashioned, démodé God-- typically used by people who scoff at the idea of God and scorn Christians as either simpletons or secret/not-so-secret bigots.

--  Beck prefers e-mail to texting because "e-mails last forever" whereas "texts go away".  ...?  Is e-mail really more permanent than a text?  I'm not really a texter, so I wouldn't know, but the whole thing struck me as funny-- the idea of e-mail (of all things) being permanent or lasting forever!  I'm old enough that e-mail feels pretty darn ephemeral, itself.

--  It's impossible to take Benji seriously.  He's such a caricature!  Completely lacking in even a smidgen of realism, imho.

--  "In my defense, I love the book in a postmodern kind of way where I've always sensed that it contains something that I relate to.  I think it's the kind of book that echoes my beliefs and my sentiments and I've always related well to people who have read the book and I've written about the book.  You know, I majored in comp lit and it's possible, it's very possible to read a book without reading it in the traditional, straightforward manner.  You can read about a book, Joe.  Do you know what I mean?  Do you understand?"   ...I could never condone Benji's murder, but a good solid punch in the face?  It's possible.  It's very possible.

--  I have to laugh at the idea that Joe is some sort of criminal mastermind.  Sure, the guy's no fool.  He's creative.  He's wily.  He thinks on his feet.  But he's also exceptionally lucky.  Perhaps his biggest piece of luck is the fact that he has incredibly convenient access to a soundproof cage in the locked basement of the bookstore where he works-- and of which he has almost complete control.

--  How amusing that Stephen King and Lena Dunham both gave positive quotes/reviews, since both are mentioned in the book-- especially King.  (The King-references and -praise just won't stop:  "I mean, I love Stephen King books," you say.  "But that's different because his work is so well-crafted.  The Shining is f****ing literature, you know?")

--  What is it about Beck that attracts obsessive admirers?  Peach and Nicky and Joe himself.  It seems unlikely.  I see fellow readers commenting that Beck doesn't seem like anything that special-- so why is Joe so fixated?  Well, I don't know if Kepnes was trying to make this point (probably not, in fact), but I imagine the average person who winds up with a stalker isn't anything particularly "special", really.  The strangeness lies in the stalker, not the stalked.  However, when you've got a serious stalker and two other obsessed admirers on the list... Yeah, either there's something about Beck that's actively attracting these types (her desperate neediness?  her "always-on" exhibitionism?) or it's just too unlikely to be taken seriously (=lazy writing?).

--  Here's Joe's explanation for the above: "And I know you so well, Beck.  You are charisma, you are sick, and for some reason you are a magnet for weak, spineless people like Peach, like Benji, like Nicky."  (He conveniently leaves himself off the list, of course.)  So Beck is supposed to be charisma incarnate?  Well, I don't know what to say except that that didn't come across the page very well-- not to me, at least.  Not a charismatic character, to say the least!  Maybe her so-called charisma is one of Joe's delusions...  But that still leaves the mystery of why Beck is surrounded by obsessives.

--  Some of the things Beck writes to her friends about!  And the way she writes... (She obviously told Peach about her "encounter" with Joe in the dressing room, and then there are more general eye-roll-inducing things like "I am soooo bad at boundaries.  Why are you always so smart?!")  Is that the norm?  Am I the weirdo, that I'd never dream of telling a mere friend all my very most private "stuff"?  Even by high school I was past the "tell all" stage of friendship.  I guess some of us are just way, way, way more private than others...

--  I think one of the most disturbing moments in the book is when Joe, on his road-trip home, shortly after killing Peach and sinking her body in the ocean, casually mentions that her phone has a lot of good music.  He's blithely listening to music on the phone of the woman he just finished callously murdering.  That is the epitome of cold.

--  Ugh.  Dr. Nicky gives me the creeps.  To be honest, I disliked him from his first line:  "Let's figure out what the f**k is wrong with you, shall we?"  Ugh.  Very professional way to talk to a patient the first time you meet them.  It's supposed to be shorthand for "hey, look how cool and laid-back I am!" but no, I'm not impressed.  And that's only the beginning.  Not a big fan of "Dr. Nicky", to say the least.

--  Knitters will definitely get a kick out of the fact that Joe is freaking out that Karen Minty's mother is knitting him a sweater.  Ha!  The sweater curse in action!  (Though of course, as we all know, the sweater's not really to blame here.  This "relationship" was never going to work out.)

--  "'I've never been so present in my life.' I kiss the top of your head and you're my articulate little bunny."  Oh, gag! "Never been so present in my life"?  *unimpressed face*  And "articulate little bunny"?  *violent eye-roll*

--  So... Dickens festivals, where there's "face painting and flutes, costumes and cupcakes"-- that's "why the terrorists hate us"?  ...The sad thing is, there are idiots who actually think that way.  That may be the most offensive thing in the book.  (Ok, not really, but it irked me greatly.)

--  Beck finds Joe's hidden box of his mementos/"trophies" of her and sneers, "You have a box of my sh-t."  And of course she doesn't mean that literally, except that he's saved one her used tampons, and so maybe "literally" isn't completely off the table... (g)

--  I don't know if we're supposed to find this funny or not, but the fact that Joe accidentally left the Pitch Perfect DVD on the menu/intro screen, outside the cage, where Beck can't turn it off or hit "play"-- that just really made me laugh.  I know, I know.  It could amount to psychological torture, probably, being forced to listen to the same loop of sound for hours, but it was just so ridiculous!

--  If I have any shame for not caring particularly much about Beck, that flies out the window when she admits to Joe that she only dallied with (the disgusting) Dr. Nicky because she wanted the power trip of knowing that he wanted her more than anyone else in his life-- wanted him to leave his wife-- wanted to mess up his kids' lives (like her own life was messed up when her own father left her and her mother).  Good. Grief.  What a total and absolute b***h!

--  But even though I kind of hate her, I still manage to feel sorry for Beck when she's killed... And even though Joe's the pyscho who killed her (and three other people), I still experience fleeting moments of pity for him, too, as he mourns the loss of her while he plants her body where it will throw suspicion on Nicky...  Of course, he loses little time (three months, is it?) before setting his sights on his next target for obsession.

--  I think it's interesting that the author (according to the info at the end of the book) is a native of Cape Cod (not that different from Nantucket?).  She provides her Twitter handle, which is rather amusing, too... And after skimming this interview, I find myself thinking that we probably wouldn't get along very well, in person...  (Casual cursing, "Thank you, universe", and so on.)  Fortunately, I don't have to get along with the authors of the books I read.  (Whew!  Thank goodness.  Or should I say, "Thank you, universe!"?)