From the jump, we will get rid of my one and only complaint. I prefer the original title of this book. According to GoodReads, Hidden Bodies was originally entitled Love. I can only imagine the publishers and/or author decided to change it because there are roughly a quadrillion books with "Love" in their titles. This is unfortunate because Love is the perfect title for this novel. It covers the theme and the plot and the subtext. Everything in this book is about love. No worries, though, as this book is far removed from sappy.
Hidden Bodies is one of those rare books that surpasses the pop culture material it references. You'll see nods to Mr Mercedes and Less Than Zero, and while the majority of this book happens in the same state as Bret Easton Ellis's debut novel, Caroline Kepnes's book resides in a world all its own.
Hidden Bodies also claims a rare spot in literature by being a sequel that does not suck. It is, in my opinion, as good as its predecessor. Hidden Bodies is a different animal. It has different scenery. A different story to tell. Different characters. Even a different style of prose.
Kepnes's debut effort, You, was written in second-person present tense; our narrator Joe Goldberg speaks directly to the woman currently holding his interest, as if she's always there to listen. It was a fresh experience. It worked to cement the tone of the work. Besides, there will never be another You like Guinevere Beck. Hidden Bodies is written in first-person present. This switch is needed because we do not follow one obsession throughout the novel. For a goodly amount of time, the reader hasn't a clue who Joe is going to latch onto next, or if he'll get the revenge he feels he deserves. All that is only a small part of the magic going on inside Hidden Bodies.
Kepnes has a talent for sleight of hand. "Hey, you, look over here while I do this other thing behind your back." Twice in the same novel, I forgot what kind of person our narrator is. I'd be riding along on cruise control, enjoying how Kepnes turned a phrase, or I'd be snickering at some reference that is certainly only there for fanservice, and then Joe would remind me how truly unstable he is. This was as effective as a deer jumping in front of my car in the middle of city traffic. The first bathroom scene is one of the best since Psycho (I do not say that lightly), and it is made all that more effective by being in the psycho's head. The second bathroom scene had my heart playing "Wipeout" on my ribs. That was intense. I've not read a scene that nerve shattering in a long time.
Finally, I must give credit to the author for caring about every single character she brought on stage, right down to Harvey. Yeah, I noticed. I actually shed a tear or two after finding out how he ends up. This was a small character, only referenced a handful of times, and Kepnes treated him with compassion and allowed him his own ending, his own complete (albeit short) story. Other authors would have moved on and forgotten about little ol' Harvey. This is what sets Kepnes apart from many novelists working today. You can tell she loves her cast, from the small roles to the horribly irredeemable ones. Moreover, this woman's writing is simply damn fun to read.
I believe I have a new favorite novelist, friends and neighbors.
In summation: Caroline Kepnes has her finger on the pulse of Today. She's counting the beats and taking notes. Because of this, she knows how to make our hearts race, how to steal them and how to break them. Yes, You and Hidden Bodies are about a terrible human being, but it is in his mental illness that we all find the comfort of familiarity, because, as Robert Bloch once wrote, “I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times.” Highest possible recommendation.
Final Judgment: I feel bad for the rest of the books I have to read this year.
(Thanks to Atria Publishing, NetGalley, and the author for allowing me to read an advance review copy of this novel. I almost wish you hadn't though, because I have no idea what to read next.)