I first heard of Caroline Kepnes through the writing community on Twitter, way before You was made into the successful Netflix series it is. I love Joe's character; the sociopath with a moral compass is one of my favorite MOs. Not quite Dexter, but let's be honest, Dexter was a mess by the end, anyway.
But because I watched You before I read Hidden Bodies, and watching can sometimes skew my literary perception, I put Providence on my TBR instead.
Providence is a little bit of everything, sci-fi, romance, horror, all rolled into one neat ball of prose. Jon, a misfit with a penchant for newspapers and a crush on his only friend Chloe Smells Like Cookies, is abducted on his way to school. He reappears four years later with select memories of what happened and soon learns that nothing--especially not himself--is the same.
At the same time, we meet Eggs, a hard-boiled (pun intended) detective who believes a mysterious string of heart attacks is more than a coincidence. As he navigates his hunches against growing suspicion about his health, we get an outsider's perspective on what happened to Jon and the ramifications of his mysterious disappearance.
Spanning decades and narrative POVS, Providence is a unique experience with more than a subtle Lovecraftian influence. Kepnes does an amazing job of developing character voices. What I appreciated most, though, was the underbelly of the characters and how they deal with Jon's presence. This one singular event shapes Chloe's life, on many levels and in metamorphic ways. She doesn't experience the loss in a linear way, nor does she come to the conclusion we expect her to have in a typical romance/thriller structure. This book is anything but predictable. More than a childhood love, Kepnes uses the relationship between Jon and Chloe to highlight depression and acceptance, obsession and the bittersweet sting of love. Toxic was a word I kept coming back to the further I got into the text. Toxic sadness, toxic expectations, toxic taboos. At its heart, Providence is a book about the little obsessions we all carry with us, whether they stem from heartbreak or love or fear, and how they can affect our lives in multitudinous ways.
I think what kept this from being a 5 star rating was the slow burn never really felt like a huge pay off. I kept expecting something bigger to happen, to have more questions answered, and that never really happens. This is the kind of book however, that lingers and I wouldn't be surprised if I picked this one up again--maybe after I have time to experience one of Lovecraft's books for myself.
Accessible and brilliantly written, Providence is an excellent read.