You Are Totally Alone

A lot of you have probably already read Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel You Are Not Alone, but I just recently got around to it. I have actually had the privilege of receiving all 3 of this duo’s novels as AREs, and can attest that in general, all are easy-to-read thrillers. This latest, though, is the one that has left me thinking about it afterward. And since I think most people have already it, by this point, I would like to discuss how I read this book, not necessarily how the authors’ intended for their work to be interpreted. In other words, there will be spoilers. Possibly a lot of them. So if you have not read the book yet, and do not like spoilers, consider yourself forewarned.

You Are Not Alone tells the story of Shay Miller, a lonely woman in her early thirties whose downward spiral (lost job, roommate she’s in love with has a different romantic partner) continues its’ descent when she gets icky vibes from some dude while waiting for the subway, and inches closer to a strange woman whom she is just thinking she would like to become friends with, when the woman suddenly careens in front of the train and commits suicide.

That’s some Anna Karenina shit

Shay is, understandably, traumatized by this event. She learns the woman’s name, goes past her old apartment and leaves a flower, finds out there is a memorial service and attends. She knows it’s kind of weird, but she can’t help herself. And actually, I don’t find any of this weird at all. What’s weird is how much she thinks about how she is weird.

A fitting tribute, or sign of a “weirdo?”

The way that I interpret this novel is that we are receiving insight into the mind of sociopath. Shay collects data about the things she does not understand, which helps her interpret the world around her, and more specifically, what the people in her life are likely to do, based on statistics and close observation. She is romantically interested in her roommate, Sean, and assumes that he will feel the same way because he does stuff with her like watch TV and drink beer, and statistically, many romances form from friendships. Yet it is not clear if she drinks the beer he likes because she also likes it, or because Sean likes it. In fact, I rather assumed the latter. When she sees Amanda commit suicide right in front of her, she begins collecting data on suicide. It is a very rational way to deal with something that likely stemmed from an emotional impetus.

When the gorgeous, wealthy, powerful sisters befriend her, she is grateful, and always trying to figure out what will impress them when doing anything – picking out her outfit, figuring out what drink to order – while in their vicinity. She willingly turns herself into a puppet. Are we supposed to feel bad that she ensnared herself in a web of deceit that will result in her being framed for murder?

Dance, puppet. Dance!

Well, I suppose so. And I guess I did, finally, feel a little bad for her. Like, she may be a bit odd, and she may act kind of pathetic, but since she did not, in fact, murder anyone, as far as we know, it is a bit much for her to go to jail for it.

… I guess

Although Shay’s perspective is told in first person, whereas viewpoints of others, when told, are third-person omniscient, I did not sympathize with Shay. Except for the shit with her stepdad, which sucked, and resulted in isolation from her mother. So even though you know the sisters are setting Shay up, the secrecy and backhanded ways they are using to get what they want feel like a mirror of the lies and backhanded manipulations Shay uses to try to get them to like her. The idea that, because Shay wasn’t straight with them, she deserves to die is a bit dramatic – but this is not outside of the sphere of the Victorian “kiss-outside-of-your-marriage-vows-and-you-will-get-sick-and-die-bitch” aesthetic. In the end, Shay wins, because she is able to surprise her enemy with the police. But Shay commits her own devious act, at the end, in a manner that was obviously willful and unnecessary. To someone who meant to cause her harm, but did not quite achieve it. So Shay has actually become her enemy, except that her murder is much less easy to detect.

Things have been a bit boring around here. I could use a slice of murder cake with this tea…

Thus, I interpret this novel as a case of a socially awkward sociopath paired against a socially adept psychopath in a life-and-death battle, with the latter only revealed near the end, because every thriller needs a twist.

Every thriller has a twist

What about you? Does my interpretation match your reading, or did you read this novel differently?

TBR Treasure Hunt: Winter is Here

… or rather, The Winters.

I know! It’s not even topical anymore. Yet I couldn’t resist.

The Winters claims to have been “inspired” by Daphne du Maurier’s haunting, lovely Rebecca, but at first, my impression was that it’s pretty much a modern re-telling. And initially, my instinct from reading this novel was that it was a pretty good read that pales in comparison to du Maurier’s gothic novel. And then, I re-read Rebecca. And realized maybe the book is not as lovely as I had thought. And maybe I hadn’t been reading the novel critically enough to understand what was going on.

To provide some context, I read Rebecca for the first time in high school. I was a very dramatic teenager, with a love for reading, and Rebecca was an instant favorite. As an adult, however, although I still have a penchant for drama, I also realize in a way I did not when younger, how unreliable and ridiculous the unnamed narrator is.

In the start, she seems fine. She jumps into being “in love” with Maxim de Winter and agreeing to spend the rest of her life with him awfully fast. But, she’s also living a drab life, with her job consisting of working for a woman she doesn’t much like, and Maxim de Winter, as an older man who seems to enjoy her for her legitimate company, offers a safe respite from this life by offering security due to his money. She says that she’s in love with him, and she probably really thinks that she is. I was immediately skeptical, however, (on this re-read, not when I was a high-school aged idiot), given that she’s very young, and he’s much older.

Yet as the book progresses, it is clear to the reader that she doesn’t really care to be around him. She likes her alone time. She doesn’t really want to socialize – claims she’s worried she’s going to mess something up, but really, she’s a young woman who doesn’t want to hang out with Maxim’s older friends making boring conversation. Totally fair. Oh, and she doesn’t really mind if her husband’s around, either. Although she’s young and they just got married. …yep, sounds like a young person who’s truly smitten to me.

It is difficult to tell, as the book progresses, if you can believe anything she says. She sounds reasonable and logical, until she doesn’t. She’s so timid around Mrs. Danvers, for instance, that you can understand why the older woman can’t help but long for her previous female employer. Not because Rebecca was beautiful and charming, because she was decisive. Rebecca could make a fucking decision. Mrs. Danvers asks this narrator what her preference is, and she’s so worried about making the wrong decision that she does, every time, by saying – “Oh, whatever you prefer.” Or “Whatever Rebecca would have done.” And attempting to ameliorate her waffle-ness by adding “I’m not picky.” It’s literally your job to keep the house, now. And you have money now. Either start reading books to learn the etiquette, or decide you don’t give a fuck, and you do you, bitch. Be like: “I’m tired of pickles” and don’t order them for 3 weeks. Drink red wine with fish. The way to make a wrong decision is to care too much about what others think of your choices.

So our potentially agoraphobic narrator with hermitic tendencies is married to a rich, older guy she tries to convince herself she loves, and abstaining from housekeeping, supposedly because she’s terrified of the housekeeper, but really because she’s paralyzed by the idea of making the wrong choice. And she has convinced herself that she is correct in being terrified of the housekeeper, although the latter seems to be acting in a totally reasonable matter. I don’t buy that Danvers is a bitch, actually. I kind of like her. More than the narrator, if we’re being honest.

This is starkly in contrast to my read of the book when younger. When younger, I took everything the narrator said at face value. Now, I’m 100% convinced this younger reading was incorrect.

So, initially, The Winters was a 4-star read for me, because “Mm, it’s okay. But Rebecca is better. Just re-read Rebecca.” [Editor’s Note 1: This is not a direct quote.]

[Editor’s Note 2: Yes, I edit my blog myself.]

[Editor’s Note 3: So I am, in fact, the editor. Leaving editor’s notes on my own writing.]

And then I re-read Rebecca. And I realized that Lisa Gabriele’s The Winters bears many similarities to Rebecca. Was obviously written with the same-ish characters in mind. But it deviates in important ways to tell a story that shows, at the least, a critical reading of Rebecca that is worth considering.

I still think it’s a 4-star read for me, because although I really enjoy its’ analysis of its’ famous inspiration, I do not want to own it. The writing is fine, if a bit simple. Worth a read, but maybe get if from the library, if interested.

… like I did!

Have you read The Winters? What did you think? Do you want me to leave editor’s notes on your blog? I’m good at them, and can make up content as needed. I’m fairly good at it – not, like, John Hodgman good, but we can’t all be John Hodgman, so… you know… what was I saying? [Editor’s Note: It is not recommended to lose your train of thought mid-sentence. Consider re-wording.]

Artichoke Hearts

“So – what would you like for dinner? I’m about to run to the grocery store; I can make you anything you want.”

She thought for a moment, eyes shifting up and to the left, before returning his gaze and responding:

“Again? I really want to cook for you today, so – anything. Brussel sprouts and baked chicken? Avocado salad? Lasagna and crusty garlic bread? Grilled salmon with white wine? Panang curry?”

She smiled. “I’m a simple gal, and artichoke hearts are tasty and good for you!”

“Better than breakfast for dinner?” he pressed. “I make a mean waffle with berry compote and hand whipped cream…”

She thought again. “Artichokes.”

“Or healthy! I could do a sprout bowl, with a mix of quinoa and brown rice, edamame, bean sprouts, radish rosettes, and carrot shavings with a light green goddess dressing.”

“Artichokes.”

“What about – “

“Artichokes.”

Deep sigh. “Fine. I will get you your fucking artichoke hearts.”

“Thank you!”

“I hate you.”

She giggled; not realizing that he was not making a joke but merely being honest. That dating a chef without expanding her palette would prove not merely unwise, but deadly. That it is relatively easy to slip poison into a dish, and that an emasculated significant other whose livelihood depends on other people partaking in and enjoying his dishes who has spent the last 365 days cooking a rather pedestrian vegetable as a meal might be adequately tempted to add an extra, lethal ingredient.

He continued watching her with large eyes after setting her plate before her, and she was trying to figure out the likelihood that a diamond ring had been delicately folded into her meal as she ate with small, delicate bites. Each piece of artichoke heart was chewed 32 times, ensuring adequate digestion, and that this digestion was only occurring for food.

She was halfway through her dish, chewing thoroughly, concentrating intensely, when enough poison had been released into her system, and she sank into the remainder of her dinner.

He poured a glass of wine, which he then lifted in a gleeful, macabre toast. “Live like a toddler, eat like a toddler, die like a toddler.” The wine glided down his throat in one long, rich, smooth gulp, after which he gave a deep sigh, and then stood up from the table. Although he had been rather naughty and already had his dessert, it was time to make dinner.

Written in response to M’s July 2019 Writing Prompt.