I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but when I read the synopsis for this story, I truly didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I submitted a request for the ARC through Netgalley only because of the author’s name.
I read Kepnes’s first novel, You, about 2 years ago and loved it. You is a thriller about a man stalking a woman that is told in the second-person from the stalker’s perspective. It’s the only story I’ve read at such a length in the second-person narrative and didn’t feel annoyed by it. And the protagonist, Joe, has stuck in my mind ever since. I think Kepnes has a talent for developing strong characters that will stay with the reader long after completing the story. In Providence, the character who has stuck with me is Eggs.
June 19, 2018
A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.
Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.
Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.
When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity — but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.
Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two. (Goodreads)
The synopsis I found on Goodreads does a great job of giving an overview of the story and hitting the key points without giving much away. I read something similar when I saw this book available on Netgalley and assumed that it’s fantasy or horror and wondered if Kepnes was going to take a turn into those realms of literature. But instead, I’d categorize Providence as a thriller.
The supernatural quality hinted at in the synopsis as Jon having gained a special ability that endangers those close to him I think could be debated depending on how you interpret Jon’s perception of reality. While reading, I tried to consider events and characters’ reactions from a different angle from what Jon believes, but doing so was hard. It’s hard not to get swept up in Kepnes’s story and agree with what the narrator says. It’s hard to break away from the spell Kepnes casts when she starts weaving her tale, pulling you in and enchanting you with her unique voice that I think I’d be able to pick up in anything she writes.
In some ways, Providence reminds me of You, mostly because of Kepnes’s voice. Since I read You first and it’s the only book by her I’d read prior to this, I associate her voice with Joe, the protagonist in You, because the story is from his perspective but he addresses someone else, “you.” Providence is told in first-person but from three characters’ perspectives: Jon, the guy who is kidnapped; Chloe, Jon’s best friend; and Eggs, a detective investigating a series of uncanny deaths. Though all three perspectives are distinct from each other and different from Joe’s in You, they are all similar in that they all share Kepnes’s voice.
Another similarity I observed between the two books are the themes Kepnes focuses on, most notably social media (how people use it and how it affects our lives); romantic relationships (how young adults (the characters I’m familiar with are usually in their mid-20s, early 30s, I think) develop and navigate them); mental health; and identity (especially posturing (her protagonists are good at seeing through bs when they want to)).
But in Providence, I was most interested in her examination of what makes a monster, her focus on the characters’ use of social media and oversharing on it to compensate for other areas in life that are lacking and to nonverbally reach out to another; and also in her focus on parasitic relationships. I love how Eggs’s marriage is used as a foil to other unhealthy relationships presented in the story. I loved the part where he argues with wife at a party and his wife yells at him: “Stop looking at me and let me look at you.” I also loved that the meaning of “providence” varies throughout the story as we learn more about the characters and their influences.
Though I couldn’t help thinking of You while I read Providence, it is distinct from You and I enjoyed reading it. I was immediately hooked and though the pace is moderate, I quickly swept through the story because I was eager to know what was going with Jon, learn what would become of him and Chloe, and see if Eggs would succeed at solving the case. The story alludes to Lovecraft and is based on one of his stories. (I would mention the story, but I think doing so would probably spoil this book for those familiar with Lovecraft.)
I’ve never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft, but that didn’t damper my enjoyment of Providence or made it difficult to understand the story. It’s not essential for the reader to be familiar with Lovecraft to understand the plot, characters, or dynamics of Providence. But I think having some background knowledge of Lovecraft and his work, especially the story Providence alludes to, would make reading this book a more fulfilling experience.
It’s worth the read and it’s best to read it free of spoilers, which is why I tried my best to make this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Whether or not you are a fan of Kepnes or Lovecraft, I think this is one you’ll enjoy.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
Okay, I’m totally biased here. I consider myself a fan of Caroline Kepnes because this is the second novel of hers I’ve read and loved and given 5 stars to so, yes, I highly recommend you Buy it. I plan to do so once the paperback is out, which won’t be for a while, but I limit myself to purchasing mostly paperbacks.
If you read Providence and enjoyed it but haven’t tried Kepnes’s other books, then I HIGHLY recommend you pick up her first book, You, immediately. Trust me, you’ll love it. And the audio book, narrated by Santino Fontana, is superb. I don’t listen to many audio books, but this is one of the best I’ve ever listened to. Her second book, Hidden Bodies, is the sequel to You. I haven’t read it yet, but I know I’ll love it so I’m gonna recommend it too.
Btw, You is being adapted for a series on Lifetime. I think it premieres in September.
(Also while writing this I kept typing “Joe” instead of “Jon.” Those “J” names are too similar.)
If you are interested in reading stories based on Lovecraft and his work, I recommend trying Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom. It’s a fantasy, horror novella that retells Lovecraft’s short story “The Horror at Red Hook” from the perspective of a Black man in New York City (mostly Harlem) in the 1920s. I read it last year and really liked it. As with Providence, you don’t need to be familiar with Lovecraft or the original story to understand what’s going on.
Okay, okay, I’m done now.