Fragmented Psychology Focus of You

Rachel Jin, Staff Writer

Emotional, chilling, and sincere, author Caroline Kepnes’s debut novel details the mutual obsessive desire between an unassuming young Manhattan man and a poetic, mysterious upper-class belle. A dangerous cross between Stephen King’s Misery and Vladimir Nabokov’s LolitaYou follows literature lover Joe Goldberg’s descent into a lethal insanity as he spends his days pining over aspiring writer Guinevere Beck.

After meeting Beck, a poorly dressed but beautiful woman, in the bookstore at which he works, Joe tracks her down online and camps outside her window for days, while planning the different ways to make her his. A thorough “background check” on Beck leads to the unearthing of her broken relationship with Benji, a careless environmentalist whose only aspiration is to mass-market his homemade vegan club soda. Holding Benji hostage for weeks and using dangerous means to keep him at bay, Joe manages to get what he had thought was his biggest obstacle out of the way.

His blossoming relationship with the equally enamored Beck, however, does not run smoothly as he had hoped. A potentially flourishing romance is held under a strain by Beck’s best friend Peach, a pathological liar who uses sympathy to keep Beck, whom she appears to be in love with, away from Joe. As Beck and Joe’s relationship wavers throughout the novel, Joe persists, his heart set on making the indecisive Beck fall in love with him, until over time the roles become reversed and Joe comes to a horrifying realization that ends in tragedy.

The clever manipulation of first-person narration allows Kepnes to juxtapose two sides of the same man: suave, coquettish, friendly Joe battles an internal war against stalkerish, obsessive Joseph Goldberg. Both attempt to keep their dates with Beck a balance of casual and personal, while avoiding the depths of intimacy that Joe had secretly dared to reach by means of breaking into Beck’s apartment. Mundane trips to Ikea and a dinner of Swedish meatballs are livened by Joe’s mental anecdotes, which do everything from comparing his daily experiences to movies to making silent commentary on a diversity of events, strung together only by Victoria’s Secret underwear and a passion for Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters.

Though it was hard not to develop a strong emotional sympathy for this love gone so tragically wrong, the plot pushes the limits of length. The first part of the novel is whimsical and only slightly twisted, and the ending is dark, hopeless, and hardly unadorned, but there is an unfortunate empty break in between. Joe’s internal dialogue becomes drawn-out and tedious, attempting to fill a 100-page gap with his aimless wander and uninteresting conversations with characters introduced too late. The brief synopsis on the email teaser I received oversells the book as a stirring tale of lust intertwined with murder, as a desperate lover goes to great lengths to get what he wants; in actuality, said tale dissipates into a sad stalker’s diary, filled with unnecessary lamentations and flawed plot lines.

Still, the psychological intrigue of the novel more than makes up for the lack of physical happenings. Each simple action is driven by thoughts: questions, observations, daydreams. It is because of this that we are able to connect with Joe, to some extent, rather than just see him as a charming sociopath.

Much credit is due to this character-reader connection in making You a candidate for one of the greatest thrillers of an era. The majority of iconic masterworks lack a certain level of depth that You manages to hit. It’s not often difficult to discern the sick, twisted psychopath from the poor, wholesome victim of said psychopath’s deadly games.

Kepnes, on the other hand, leaves us feeling a sense of betrayal. The rare innocence at the heart of the novel is wrapped up in a sharp, violent turning point, and all that we thought we had known about the characters is pulled out from under us. We are able to recognize the egomaniacal, crazed murderer easily from the start, and yet we still don’t realize who the real evil is until the end. It’s nearly impossible to re-read the novel without having a newfound sense of exactly how the mind games are being played–not just between Beck and Joe, but between the web of characters as a whole. And thus, the entire frame of the book, so meticulously curated throughout the pages, crumbles at exactly the right time.

Sadly, it would be unrealistic to expect a movie of equal eloquence and dynamic as the novel. Stripped of the psychological twists that fuel the narration, You would be left as a mere shell of superficial, meaningless daily happenings. There would be arbitrary car rides, a trip to buy a new bed, and unwarranted, anticlimactic murders. The sophisticated recession of the novel’s storyline would be replaced by a mundane, Hollywood conclusion as the audience sits there, baffled at this unexplained, inexplicable failure of a phenomenon.

You pushes many extremes, making it a difficult recommendation. While it’s indeed possible to appreciate the spectacular narration as a whole, it’s also very possibly too much: “too explicit”, “too grim”, “too sexual”, or just overall “too messed up”. So here’s how I’m going to describe it to you. If you can handle the obsessive lust of Lolita, the consummation of Fifty Shades of Grey, the proximate gore of American Psycho, and the complexity of Memento, all woven together and then condensed into 432 pages, you just might be able to make your way out of Guinevere Beck’s murderous schemes unscathed.