You: A Novel & Hidden Bodies (You #2)

You: A Novel & Hidden Bodies (You #2) by Caroline Kepnes

Okay, y’all. After reading these two books I think I sort of, kind of am getting closer to understanding why seemingly every guy between the ages of 18-30 “loves” American Psycho. Disclaimer that these books by Caroline Kepnes are twisted and dark AF, yet somehow also hilarious and a valid commentary on today’s social media obsessed society.

You. First things first, this book is seriously deranged. While I was reading it I was like why am I enjoying this so much? Why am I laughing so much? Is something wrong with me? etc. etc. I have never read a book like this before, and it’s actually pretty brilliant. Kepnes takes you deep, deep, DEEP into the mind of Joe Goldberg, a seemingly average dude who works at a bookstore in New York City. One day Guinevere Beck (AKA Beck) comes into the store; she’s beautiful, flirtatious, and an aspiring writer. Joe immediately feels a connection with her- they’re meant to be, obvi, she just doesn’t know that yet. So he does what to him is the obvious next move – he Googles the name on her credit card. From there, he is easily able to find out what he needs to know from her Facebook and Twitter profiles, including where she’ll be later that night for a “chance” meeting.

So begins Joe’s incredibly misguided quest for love as he takes silently control of Beck’s life, orchestrating a series of events that leads her right to his waiting arms. As he moves from stalker to boyfriend, he’ll stop at nothing to ensure that he transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man.

You is equal parts twisted, insightful, and hilarious. I found myself rooting for Joe because he’s funny and smart, and sees the world the way an astute person sees the world. But then he does something completely deranged – like murder. I promise you that you will find yourself rooting for Joe as much as you will find yourself disgusted by him. Despite being an obsessive/stalker/murderer, Joe has remarkably valid insight into society that’s completely immersed in a virtual world of social media. Plus, there’s Evan, Joe’s employee who is trying to learn Spanish via Enrique Englesias songs.

Hidden Bodies. Our charming, intellectual, witty, murdering narrator is back in Hidden Bodies. Without giving anything away, a certain chain of events leads Joe to leave New York City for Los Angeles in the sequel to You. LA is literally Joe’s nightmare, where people are chill, eat guac, and are obsessed with their own reflections. But then Joe meets Love, the real girl of his dreams. Love is beautiful, wealthy, and most importantly, Love loves Joe for who he really is.But then his past starts to catch up with him.

Hidden Bodies was still really enjoyable, but it was lacking a certain something that You had. The overall message of Hidden Bodies is more about the importance and redemptive powers of love. It was also just a little too outlandish for me to get completely on board with, but still a totally fun read. Joe’s critiques on society are more celebrity culture-focused in this one, but still spot on. Overall, I seriously enjoyed both of these books. Extremely original, unique, a lot creepy, and v. fun. DO READ!

-M

 

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Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler; 2016

“You will develop a palate.” The first line of Stephanie Danler’s debut novel Sweetbittter. Nothing much happens for the rest of the book (and purposely so, from Danler’s own admission), except Tess, the main character, develops a palate for life.

With Vanderpump Rules and Below Deck, Bravo has obviously tapped into a popular grittier and more scandalous Upstairs, Downstairs reality show format. Both shows grant access to the behind-the-scenes lives of young people who work and play in the hospitality and food service industries. When I first heard the buzz about Sweetbitter last spring, I’ll admit that I was expecting/hoping for a well-written literary Vanderpump Rules. Sweetbitter accesses the same kind of world, but the book is too unexpectedly highbrow to fit into the category of good-for-you trashy reality TV.

On one hand, Sweetbitter is exactly the kind of book that I’ve been looking for since I graduated high school. There’s a huge absence of well-written, thoughtful books for 18-30s. Choices outside of the literary fiction realm seem to go from angsty YA love stories to divorced women in their thirties who find love again. Sometimes I just want to shout at publishers: HEY! None of these are me! Enter Stephanie Danler, who offers Sweetbitter, a book about a twenty-two-year old right out of college. Now we’re in business. Tess packs up her car and moves from her Midwest roots to – where else – New York City, not because she’s secured a job, but because she wants to start living. She rents a room in Williamsburg and gets a job as a back waiter in one of Manhattan’s top restaurants. We spend the next year with Tess as she first blunders as the new girl, then excels as she learns the “privileged” life of a back waiter. And, of course, she gets caught up in a complicated triangle with two other servers – a bad boy bartender, Jake, and his lifelong server-friend, Simone.

Although I liked the idea of this book, it was ultimately too heavy-handed for my taste in what it’s trying to do. It turns out that I don’t want to read a book about people who read Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in their spare time and who have ridiculous, pretentious conversations about wine the majority of the time; it was impossible to connect with. Tess was too much of an empty shell for me to root for her, and I 100% forgot what her name was until two-thirds of the way through the book when her name was at last finally mentioned again. In the end, there were too many layers of cocaine, stumbling drunkenness, and ugly sex for me to really care about Tess or her journey to self-discovery.

What Sweetbitter does do extremely well is transferring sensory details off the page. It’s full of gorgeous, visceral descriptions of food and drink. The core message of the novel is also important. Sweetbitter reminds its reader to wake up and be present. “Pay attention,” is repeated to Tess throughout the novel. When she finally does pay attention, what ensues is an envolution of senses and a consumption of life.

-M

A Series of Unfortunate Events (Books 1-4)

For years I’ve been meaning to re-read A Series of Unfortunate Events from beginning to end. Partly because I loved these books as a middle schooler, and partly because there was such a big stretch of time between the first book and the last book that I remember reading The End and not getting it because so much time had passed. Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which came out in January was finally the excuse I needed to take the time to re-read these. WARNING: some light spoilers ahead.

Overall impressions:

  • Count Olaf is hands down the most comical aspect of this series
  • Mr. Poe is the worst and TBH really annoying
  • I didn’t realize as a kid how big of a drunk Olaf is
  • This series takes on much heavier themes for children; going back as an adult, I admire Lemony Snicket’s pluck. He treats kids with the maturity they deserve. In every situation, the Baudelaire’s know what’s up, and the adults are blinded by ego, greed, “logic,” etc.

The Bad Beginning: The antics of Count Olaf in The Bad Beginning were actually a lot more cruel than I remembered – not to mention seriously creepy. A plot for a much older man to marry a 14 year old girl makes my skin crawl as an adult.

The Reptile Room: I remember this one as being my favorite, but didn’t necessarily feel the same way upon re-reading it. Yes, Uncle Monty is still the bomb, but a lot of the action of The Reptile Room revolved around who would ride in which car (if you’ve read this series you probably remember this part because it actually takes up about 40% of it). Amusing? Definitely. Lacking in action? Definitely. But Count Olaf getting carried away with his bragging and giving himself away was classic.

The Wide Window: I remembered not loving this one, and upon my re-reading felt the same way. However, I had a new appreciation for Aunt Josephine’s proclivity for grammar and general fear of all things – particularly realtors. Feel that. When you think about it though, Aunt Josephine was actually a fairly tragic figure. She lost her husband to the Lachrymose Leeches and then she suffered the same fate. Heavy stuff. Once again, Mr. Poe is oblivious to Olaf’s wiles, and by the third book his ignorance began to wear thin.

The Miserable Mill: Three words: Child labor laws. Anyway, I struggled through this one, as I recall doing when I was 12. I almost feel like the setting is just a little too bleak, considering the Baudelaire’s already have had a rough go of it. Also, there wasn’t even an explanation offered about why they went to go live at the Mill. What happened to the requirement about living with a relative? However, Olaf as Shirley is gold.

-M

The Girl Before

The Girl Before by JP Delaney; 2017

Well. I’ll admit I’ve disappeared from this space for a while because I’ve been eyes deep in thrillers. Yesterday I spent an ideal Saturday night sipping champagne and finishing The Girl Before, which I picked up at an airport last week while traveling.

Not unlike the Disney Channel original movie classic Smart House (#TBT), The Girl Before centers around a house that is probably too smart for its unsuspecting occupants. One Folgate Street is an architectural masterpiece; a completely minimalist space of smooth stone and windows, designed by the enigmatic architect Edward Monkford. Edward rents out the house for a steal under the condition that the occupants of the house are completely vetted first. AKA a complete psych evaluation which starts with the question: “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.”

Then: Enter Emma, who is reeling from a traumatic break-in and is looking for a new place to live that offers better safety. One Folgate offers complete safety – it recognizes and gets to know its occupant, and everything can be controlled by a smart phone app (RED FLAG am I right?). The catch is that Edward retains full control of what happens in the house: no books, no pets, no photos, etc; the paperwork Emma signs to live in the house contains hundreds of rules. The space is intended to transform it’s occupant.

Now: Jane decides to move into One Folgate Street after a personal tragedy. Not long after moving in, however, she discovers that something terrible happened to the woman who lived in the house before her, who bears a remarkably similar likeness to Jane in appearance and age. But as Jane tries to discover what really happened at One Folgate Street, she inadvertently begins making the same choices and getting involved with people with the girl who lived there before her.

The book is told in alternating perspectives from Jane and Emma, and is certainly thrilling enough. But this ultimately spirals into a strange cross of Fifty Shades of Grey and Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train/other books with girl in the title. Fun to read? Certainly. But it didn’t blow me away and the twist was lackluster. And, yes, not everything is explained to satisfaction in the end. Save this one for a plane ride.

-M

Foucault’s Pendulum

I would estimate that 88% of this book went over my head. While I got the basic gist of the plot (yay me) I didn’t understand almost all of the deeply theoretical discussion and I missed almost all of the references, excluding Nicholas Flamel because I have read Harry Potter.

Foucault’s Pendulum is in its most basic form an adventure story. The narrator, Casaubon, and two of his colleagues at their publishing firm, Diotallevi and Belbo are visited by a strange colonel who claims to have unmasked a great secret of the Knights Templar. The colonel then disappears, leaving a faint trail of foul play for the police. Thus Diotallevi, Belbo and Casaubon are drawn into the mystery and decide to create a mythical storyline of how the Knights Templar disappeared and what they are currently up to. The story, however, turns real, and the three men find themselves running for their lives.

What makes this book so difficult and dense is the fact that Umberto Eco needs to prove to his readers how intelligent he is. Thus, every page and passage is filled with obscure references to thinkers, scholars and alchemists. I have taken the time to note each of these references on just one page. you can see the abundance of them (note: these are just the references I did not understand).

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I really do not know how I finished this book and debated stopping at numerous times. Perhaps if I ever get deep into the alchemic arts or the history of the Knights Templar I’ll be able to go back and reread this with newfound enthusiasm, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

A dutiful reader would have taken note of the ten sections of this book (Keter, Hokhmah, Binah, Hesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Nezah, Hod, Yesod and Malkhut. Maybe if I had done that, this narrative would have made more sense. As it was, I didn’t pay any attention to these section headings and thus probably missed even more than my estimated 88%.

I guess I am proud of myself for finishing this book, but honestly wish I hadn’t wasted my time and had moved on to other things I would have liked more.

-A