“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.”
I’m not even sure where to begin with this one? I have a million and one thoughts, but, truth be told, I have absolutely no idea how to vocalise any of them. I will say that this isn’t the sort of book I’d usually pick up. Between Jenny insisting I read it, and the hype surrounding the Netflix show, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot. I don’t dislike thrillers or mysteries, not by a long shot. Whether it’s a book, a tv show, a movie, a play, I actually tend to enjoy them more often than not. I am, however, somebody who can get a little uneasy, not to mention anxious, when I’m consuming a lot of content that involves a lot of discomfort – even when it’s supposed to make you feel that way. I tend to shut down and I often find it hard to finish up a book when i’m setting it down and squirming every few minutes (even when i’m thoroughly enjoying the story!), but I’ll admit that this was a little different. Yes, I was uncomfortable, and yes it made me a little queasy and nauseated from time to time, but I still found it impossible to actually put down.
Joe Goldberg is not charming, he isn’t slick, or sweet, or romantic. He is a monster, plain and simple. I think that’s pretty clear from the off, and I think that’s worth remembering when reading this book. As vile and disconcerting as it is to be stuck in the mind of somebody so utterly heinous, not once did I feel as though Kepnes wanted me to pity Joe. Never did I feel as though she was trying to redeem or celebrate the guy, but in fact she seemed to take every opportunity that she could, within his narrative, to really show us how crass and dangerous he was.
And, yet, at the exact same time, everything about her writing, and the artful way with which she crafted this story, makes you second guess each and every character, every last one of Joe’s actions. Joe is so completely deluded, so entirely convinced of his own sanity and his own honest to God decency, that he never once believes himself to be in the wrong. No, in fact, every single one of his actions he justifies, he excuses, and he manages to swing the blame around onto somebody else, anybody else. And I think that’s what’s so utterly brilliant, and undoubtedly captivating, about this story. Kepnes reels you in and creates this persona, within Joe, in which you’re so utterly disgusted by him, yet you’re still clinging onto his every word. Because, at the end of the day, Joe’s narrative is the only narrative we receive. There’s no genuine way to know exactly how all of these events transpired, not accurately, because we see it all through his eyes only.
For example, countless times I found myself irritated by Beck, questioning her behaviour and wondering just what her game is. Through all those times, I never once sat and thought, ‘hey, maybe Joe is right!’, not for a second, and yet I still questioned her, I still doubted her motives. In the end, I think there were so few truly likeable and decent characters within this story, that it truly puts it into perspective just how truly depraved Joe is. Had Beck, Peach, Nicky, Benji, and co all been a picture perfect group of friends, endearing from their heads to their toes, and leaving me grinning from ear-to-ear, then I don’t know if this book would have been quite so compelling, as absolutely bizarre as that sounds. Had Joe been targetting and immersing himself in the lives of a group of people that the readers loved unconditionally, perhaps his vile nature would have been too much to swallow, and I would have set the book down days ago. As it were, they were a group of narcissistic, selfish, manipulative, and downright intolerable group of people, and somehow that made each and every page more unsettling. Because it’s the natural thing to root for the victims, and to hate the stalker/murderer. That’s exactly how it should be. And, certainly, it’s made doubly easier when you’re dying to see them get out, get away from him, to see them safe. But when you find each and every one of his victims, each of his targets, somewhat deplorable, then who do you root for?
Of course, the answer is, you still don’t want the killer to win. Of course not.
And that’s what makes it so excellent. Joe Goldberg is a terrible person. And, frankly, so is Beck, and so are all of her friends. They kinda suck in a multitude of ways. They weren’t decent people, they weren’t likable – Beck had her moments, don’t get me wrong, but she was flawed beyond belief – and yet, still, nobody deserves what Joe put them through. Not a single person. So, even when you’re reading this book, staring at things through a Goldberg-coloured lens, and you’re taken in by this group of disdainful people, it’s okay to sometimes sit back, agree, and say, ‘you know what, Joe, yes, they do suck’, but it’s also worth remembering the following;
- Joe Goldberg’s perception of everyone and everything is warped. He is a sick, deluded, and heinous man who truly seems to believe that he’s doing the world a favour. He’s not.
- No matter how insufferable a human being is, it’s actually not okay to go around stalking, harming, blackmailing, manipulative, framing, or murdering them.
Kepnes impressed and shocked me by creating such a dark and somewhat enthralling character and setting. Being inside of Joe’s head was bewildering, and there was something haunting in just how real he felt. Joe wasn’t some over-dramatic, fictionalised version of some idea she had; Joe Goldberg embodies a vast majority of the men we meet every single day. He is ignorant, he is self-absorbed, he is entitled. He believes that he is owed something by women, and his blatantly sexist and hateful view of women and the world around him is proven time and time again within these pages.
I think, overall, I really enjoyed this book, as horrifying as it was in places. It’s a hard book to rate, but I did dock a star for a couple of reasons. The first reason, quite simply, is that sometimes I felt as though Joe was a little too crass. I understand that that’s a part of his character, and it’s supposed to highlight just how abhorrent he truly is. I get that. But, I think, in other places it didn’t always seem to fit the narrative. Again, this could have just been a move on Kepnes’ part to show us just how twisted he was, and how far gone, but sometimes it felt like she was crossing lines merely for the sake of crossing lines; having characters say and do things just for the purpose of shocking the reader. A good shock here and there is great for a story, but only ever if it makes an impact. Also, there’s only so many times I can read the words ‘pussy juice’, or random descriptions of whatever miscellaneous object Joe came into. The second reason, quite simply, is the ending. *spoiler alert* I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, exactly. Many stories such as this one don’t end happily – how could they possibly – and when written solely from his viewpoint, I didn’t expect it to go in any other direction. However, the fact alone that there is even a sequel, even before I picked this up, was a little off-putting to me. I think, sometimes, a story is better left untouched, and that expanding on certain universes and narratives can ruin a perfectly good thing. We don’t need to see further into Joe’s warped mind; we got a pretty good view as it is. We don’t need to explore further into his newer relationships, and we certainly don’t need to see him play the exact same game with another pretty face. Joe’s story is over, and I think sometimes it should be left up to the reader to perceive the direction with which a tale is going, and Kepnes could have easily left our imaginations to run wild, and allowed us to come up with our own potential future for Joe.
Overall, I found this to be a great story all the same, and I personally enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated. 4/5 stars.