You are classic and compact, my own little Natalie Portman circa the end of the movie closer, when she’s fresh-faced and done with the bad British guys and going home to America. You’ve come home to me, delivered at last, on a Tuesday, 10:06 A.M.
You is the incredibly creepy debut novel by Caroline Kepnes: a glimpse into the mind of a psycho-stalker as he watches and manipulates his latest target. It’s dark. There are themes of death and obsession and voyeurism that don’t always come from the characters you’d expect. And although these themes are recycled again and again in books and films, Kepnes makes it feel fresh and modern, the use of technology and social media harnessed in a way that reminds us that we live in a society where anyone can stalk anyone with the click of a few keys. Usually a harmless pass-time…until it isn’t.
Well, sometimes you just want to go where it’s dark, you know?
The first thing I noticed when I started the first page was the perspective. This story is written in first person but you could almost be mistaken in thinking it’s written in second. The view-point is that of the stalker but the whole novel is narrated towards the stalk-ee, and at times it feels like he’s talking directly to the reader. It’s no coincidence that the main character’s obsession with his target is so overpowering that he can think of nothing but her, that he speaks to no one but her. That the most used word in this narrative is “you”. I really enjoyed this choice and I think it worked incredibly well.
The other thing I really enjoyed about this novel was the insight into the character’s mind. Everything he does is rationalized. We follow his thought process and, within the context of his own point-of-view, we can see why he acts the way he does with no remorse. It all makes sense within his internal logic and Kepnes does well in keeping it consistent. Likewise, the other characters all follow their own logic, their own character flaws informing their actions.
Now we get to the things I didn’t like so much about the novel.
The stakes never seemed to get much higher than when the novel started. It’s a story about a stalker who’s successfully stalked and killed before. The book then follows a rather predictable course, veering off the expected path here and there, but ultimately winding up where we could reasonably expect. I know this is a narrative about atmosphere, and getting into the mind of a stalker, and all of that is done really very well. But I feel like the narrative just needed something a little extra to raise the tension, especially as we got into the last third.
Another small gripe is that there were no characters who were very likable. The narrative was horrific and disturbing, but at the same time I didn’t feel much sympathy for the victim. With a few of the reveals that happen further along in the story, I don’t think the author’s goal was to create likable characters. But still, in the end I didn’t feel invested enough in the target as a character to care whether she managed to escape her captor’s grasp or not.
I took this book to Canada with me and read it whenever I had a few spare hours to kill (mostly on the plane). It hooked my attention and kept me reading, eating up the hours as we flew and bused to new cities. It was the perfect travel paperback and a very engrossing read. But unfortunately it just wasn’t four star material for me.
3 1/2 stars out of 5