“YOU: A Novel” by Caroline Kepnes is the story of a young man obsessed with a young woman. Sounds simple enough, but Kepnes puts a unique spin on an old-tale by giving Joe Goldberg, arguably the protagonist and the antagonist, his voice by using a second-person point-of-view. His You is Guinevere Beck, “I really just go by Beck. Guinevere’s kinda long and ridiculous, you know?”, a young woman in her early-20’s who comes into the bookstore Joe manages. “You walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. You’re so clean that you’re dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte’s Web and where did you come from?”
Joe becomes instantly obsessed. His obsession for Beck is a pendulum that swings from worry over her safety to rage when she shows attention to anyone but him. Kepnes shows her skill as a writer as she takes the reader inside the mind of a stalker and leaves you there, a powerless observer. Joe systematically forces himself into Beck’s life as he gathers information from her phone, her Facebook and Twitter pages, and her computer. You have no choice but to watch as Joe invades Beck’s privacy, her home, her closest circles, then her body.
As Joe inserts himself into Beck’s life, both her actual life and her digital life, she loses the mythical qualities that he projects onto her and becomes a flawed young woman who is trying to figure out who she is in the world. Her often clumsy attempts at friendship and romantic relationships that are typical of a woman in her twenties are observed and judged so harshly by Joe that the reader can’t help, at times, to see her as one-dimensional. If Beck is responsible for anything that unfolds, it is for being susceptible to the addictive qualities of fawning attention.
In “You”, Kepnes raises the question of how to create personal boundaries in cyberspace. The connections that can be created via the internet can also be used to interlope into areas that once required a personal invitation. Does the responsibility now fall on each individual to police him or herself? Should a new moral definition be created: Thou will not steal. Thou will not kill. Thou will not cyber stalk?
The creative control Kepnes shows in creating a contemporary story that not only entertains but forces the reader to consider modern life is admirable. That being said, this book is not for everyone. If you like stories that make you feel unsettled and make you question the world and your place in it, then this book is definitely for you.
I am a freelance writer and editor. I write flash, short and long form fiction, articles and book reviews. My work has appeared in the Sabal Literary Journal, The Chattahoochee Review, First Line, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Scratch Anthology, Weird Year and Rebecca’s Reads and other online and print journals. I've completed one full-length manuscript and am working on my second. A collection of my short stories will be released in 2016.
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