Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it,
#ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
Fear of Male Entitlement
By Roxanne Fequiere
“Oh, no,” I thought to myself as I settled into the first chapter of Caroline Kepnes’ You. “I hate this.” The sentiment, fully formed and insistent, sprung from my mind before I could analyze its origin. Within just a few pages, Kepnes had given life to a character that reeked of false victimhood and a misplaced sense of superiority, a fictional entity rooted in an all too real landscape of male entitlement and violence. Taking a moment to reconsider my initial reaction, I realized I couldn’t yet know if I disliked the book I was holding in my hands. What I hated was the grim familiarity of its main character’s simmering vitriol.
You is written from the perspective of bookstore employee Joe Goldberg as one lengthy address delivered to Guinevere Beck (just Beck for short), an aspiring writer who made the mistake of entering his place of business. Upon seeing her for the first time, Joe’s imagination goes into overdrive: “You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. You’re so clean that you’re dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte’s Web….You are classic and compact, my own little Natalie Portman circa the end of the movie Closer, when she’s fresh-faced and done with the bad British guys and going home to America.” Oh, no. I hate this.
Joe Goldberg is a pitch-perfect rendition of the sort of guy who spends his time shitposting about alpha and beta males and scouring the Internet for hot takes on why the female population remains stubbornly immune to his unique charms. When Beck sneezes while browsing the store, he imagines her climaxing. He classifies her as “a horny girl” by virtue of her simply conversing with him. When she hands over her credit card to make a purchase, he’s pleased that her name is fairly unusual. It will make tracking her down that much easier.
Beck’s social media presence gives Joe the foothold he needs to figure out her home address, her daily whereabouts, the names of her friends and love interests. He quickly begins to install himself at her social engagements, listening in on the way her friends talk about her. He lingers outside her apartment, at once drinking in the sight of her and mentally scolding her for not having the good sense to install drapes. He takes her phone in order to monitor her texts and email. He removes people that he considers to be obstacles from her life in order to get closer to her.
I suppose You can be read as a cautionary tale about volunteering too much information about ourselves on social media; or perhaps, an especially twisted romance of sorts. I even read a couple of reviews comparing Joe’s narration to Humbert Humbert—it’s been a while since I read Lolita, but I do remember getting lost in the beauty of the narrator’s prose on more than one occasion. Joe’s petulance and pretension seemed to me laid bare from the get-go, and so I could never get swept up in his romantic delusions. Even in the moments where he fancied himself the hero of a rom-com of his own making, it always seemed quite obvious that hostility lurked just beneath the fantasy. The whiplash-inducing speed with which he classified Beck as an angel, then a whore, then an angel again was enough to keep a permanent grimace on my face as I powered through the book’s 422 pages.
The book’s ending was more of a foregone conclusion than anything else, which means that You emerges as a long walk through the mind of a psychopath. It’s a journey that’s executed compellingly—hence my very real irritation with this very fictional tale—but as someone who once embarked on a weeks-long close read of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and hammered out a twenty-odd page paper on Patrick Bateman’s aesthetic preferences in college, I’ve hit my forever limit on stories that plumb the depths of angry white men’s psyches. I’ll be doing my best to steer clear of the televised spin-off.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.