I binged You on Netflix after reading an article about how Penn Badgley was imploring that young women stop romanticizing his character, Joe, and see him for the psychopath he is. You by Caroline Kepnes is the novel the first season of the TV show is based on, there is a sequel that the upcoming second season will cover, about a book store clerk named Joe Goldberg who develops an unhealthy obsession with a young woman, Beck, who comes into his shop.
You didn’t walk in here for books, Beck. You didn’t have to say my name. You didn’t have to smile or listen or take me in. But you did.
Joe is a horrible person. He immediately “falls in love” with Beck; he finds her on social media, figures out where she lives and contrives a meet-cute to reintroduce himself. I think one of the most interesting aspects of this novel is that while yes, Joe is a piece of human garbage Beck is equally The Worst. She is an aspiring writer who lives in a state of arrested development while attempting to keep up with the Joneses of her social circle. There are no redeeming characteristics to be found in any of the main characters! It is actually a bit refreshing because you’re not emotionally invested in things turning out well for any of them.
And let me tell you, for a moment there, I was concerned. Maybe I wasn’t special. You didn’t even mention me, our conversation. Also: I talk to strangers is a line in your Twitter bio. I talk to strangers. What the fuck is that, Beck? Children are not supposed to talk to strangers but you are an adult. Or is our conversation nothing to you? Am I just another stranger? Is your Twitter bio your subtle way of announcing that you’re an attention whore who has no standards and will give audience to any poor schmuck who says hello? Was I nothing to you? You don’t even mention the guy in the bookstore? Fuck, I thought, maybe I was wrong. Maybe we had nothing. But then I started to explore you and you don’t write about what really matters. You wouldn’t share me with your followers. Your online life is a variety show, so if anything, the fact that you didn’t put me in your stand-up act means that you covet me. Maybe even more than I realize…
So Joe worms his way into Beck’s life, does some light kidnapping to ensure he is her only suitor, and steals her phone so he can read her emails and gain some insight into her mind. By the way the most unbelievable part of this novel (one that involves stalking, breaking and entering as well as murdering without consequence) is that a 23 year old woman in 2014’s preferred method of communication would be email and that her fellow Gen-Z friends would indulge in this idiosyncrasy.
The whole plot is bonkers and difficult to sum up without giving too much away but over all this is a soapy thriller that would scratch that poolside itch we all feel in the summer. The television series is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book** so if you’re a fan of one you will probably enjoy the other.
**The book does not give Joe a precocious neighbor with a tragic home life which, honestly, is for the better because his relationship with Paco gave Joe a bit too much humanity than he deserved.