I will be completely honest.
After the dumpster fire that was season 2 of You, I had not planned on engaging with anything in the You universe ever again.
However, after about 3-months into a reading slump, I decided to give this series a chance in the hopes that it would be at least moderately entertaining.
Like the TV show it inspired, the premise is a relatively unique one.
It isn’t a story about a cat-and-mouse game between a hardboiled detective and a serial killer, nor is it slasher featuring a hapless twenty-something trying to outsmart a potential murderer. It’s a story told exclusively from the perspective of a narcissist who hyper-fixates on women (seemingly arbitrarily) and tries to convince them to fall in love with him by removing all the obstacles that keep them from being together….by any means necessary.
Not only did I end up reading the first book, I decided to read the entire series and, to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
That being said, the series is not without its problems.
The first book is relatively grounded in reality; however, as the series continues, it starts to veer off into American Psycho territory where you don’t know if the obvious departure from plausible reality is a flaw in the writing, or if this is actually genius on the author’s part.
Joe, as mentioned, is narcissistic so it would make narrative sense for him to embellish events or outright lie so he can look cleverer than he actually is, or so he can portray himself as the victim of his circumstances. It’s the only explanation I can come up with that would allow him to get out of some of the scrapes he finds himself in as they become progressively more and more implausible with each passing novel.
Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with Kepnes’ work outside of the You series so I can’t say with any degree of certainty if this was an intentional artistic choice or if it’s simple laziness.
While this element was slightly ruined in further installments of the series by obvious plot armor, it was fascinating watching Joe commit heinous acts and find inventive ways of getting out of them. While he is a clever man, he isn’t Heisenberg levels of smart and he often finds himself in trouble by making careless mistakes. Personally, I think it makes the reading more engaging. How is he going to get out of this situation? Will the trap ever close? Will he ever find “love”?
The cynic in me also admires the biting social commentary when it comes to things like social media, relationships, and friendships that Joe delivers in his stream of consciousness narration. While he is a narcissistic serial killer….he kind of has a point about a lot of things.
That beings said, I have mixed feelings about the pop cultural references. While the inclusion of social media sites makes the series more realistic, the constant movie call-backs get a bit…grating after a while. This is especially true in the third book where Joe keeps saying “close as in Closer.”
Yeah, bud, it’s not nearly as clever the 70th time.
I also found it mildly annoying there are a lot more references to movies than books, you know, considering Joe works at a book store and is supposedly obsessed with literature.
Regardless, the pacing was always snappy and it is easily bingeable. I don’t think it took me longer than a week to read each book even with a busy schedule. That and, without giving too much away, it lacked a lot of the issues that I had with the travesty that was season 2. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that certain people that are supposed to be dead stay dead.
For those who might be put-off by the whole serial-killer thing, there is a lot of death, but I would hesitate to call this a violent series. Hardly any detail is given to the murders themselves even when they involve butchering, stabbing, and the like. The “morbidity” comes from Joe’s acts of voyeurism and his insatiable desire to remove everyone he deems toxic from his victim’s life.
That being said, this series probably won’t be for people that are easily disturbed. Of course you probably shouldn’t be reading a book about a serial killer if you have delicate sensibilities anyway, but…what do I know?
Personally, I enjoyed reading this series. Was it perfect? No. But they were a fun diversion from the craziness of life and they gave me something to dive into to distract me from the doldrums of life.