“ Hidden Bodies marks the return of a voice that Stephen King described as original and hypnotic, and through the divisive and charmingly sociopathic character of Joe Goldberg, Kepnes satirizes and dissects our culture, blending suspense with scathing wit.
Joe Goldberg is no stranger to hiding bodies. In the past ten years, this thirty-something has buried four of them, collateral damage in his quest for love. Now he’s heading west to Los Angeles, the city of second chances, determined to put his past behind him.
In Hollywood, Joe blends in effortlessly with the other young upstarts. He eats guac, works in a bookstore, and flirts with a journalist neighbor. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way. They re-emerge, like dark thoughts, multiplying and threatening to destroy what Joe wants most: truelove. And when he finds it in a darkened room in Soho House, he’s more desperate than ever to keep his secrets buried. He doesn’t want to hurt his new girlfriend—he wants to be with her forever. But if she ever finds out what he’s done, he may not have a choice…”
My Thoughts: Ah, Joe Goldberg, the truly messed-up anti-hero of Caroline Kepnes’ debut novel, You. Some may liken him to Patrick Bateman, one of my favorite literary sociopaths of all time; to be fair, it is easy to see the comparison. Both are handsome, intelligent, charming, and completely capable of cold-blooded murder to suit their purposes. However, that is where the similarities end. Whereas Patrick kills because he enjoys it, Joe does so to further his agenda. His murders are not random. Similarly, Patrick is incapable of human emotion, while Joe lets his emotions rule his actions. It is this emotion-fueled action that allows Joe to become strangely sympathetic and utterly fascinating.
In Hidden Bodies, Joe is up to his old tricks, fantasizing about how he is going to exact punishment on a former girlfriend after she betrays him. This time, his thirst for vengeance takes him to Los Angeles. Hollywood is not New York, and Joe must learn to adapt to this new culture. How he does so provides some of the most biting commentary about Hollywood and modern life that one can read. Joe’s reactions to his experiences with the down-and-out, the Hollywood hopefuls, and with the city’s elite make for some great reading and prove to be so ludicrous that they only further heighten the sympathy you feel for Joe.
Hidden Bodies is not a rehash of You. While it is still easy to feel disgust at Joe for his past actions and intent on murderous revenge, what will strike readers most about Hidden Bodies is his growth. He may detest Hollywood and the constant ambition that drives every single person’s behavior, and he may start out as his angry, vengeful self. However, that changes as he finds a purpose to his life other than selling books. Moreover, he finds acceptance within a family that has its own issues. This is the contentment and sense of belonging for which Joe has constantly sought in New York, and his happiness at obtaining it is completely infectious. Joe may finally get his happy ending after all, and you can’t help but rejoice right alongside him.
As with You, Hidden Bodies uses the second-person narrative to put a reader directly into Joe’s mind. You get to know his every thought, rational or otherwise. You know his vulnerabilities, his deepest desires, and most fervent wishes. As before, this intimacy heightens the sympathy one feels for him, so much so that when the shit hits the fan his rationale for his actions makes sense. The connection one has with Joe makes it acceptable to encourage his murderous thoughts, and you find yourself cheering him on as he attempts to beat the system to save his happy ending.
This should be more disturbing than it is, but in many ways, that intimacy also diminishes Joe’s intimidation factor. He may have a body count to his name, but he never seems terribly dangerous. He is just Joe, a man looking for happiness and success, who recognizes the stupidity of the society he inhabits and scorns it while embracing it. In hindsight, the acceptance of his past actions and the inability to recognize Joe as a serial killer is more disturbing than anything he actually does.
As before, Ms. Kepnes does a fantastic job of making Joe likable in spite of his sex-fueled, coldly-calculated behavior. The ending too is masterful and will stun readers with its coldness. As with her first novel, Hidden Bodies may not be for every reader because however much he changes, Joe still remains the same sex-obsessed, foul mouthed, cold-blooded murderer he was. For those who are not offended by such things, Joe is a fascinating subject and Hidden Bodies provides oodles of psychological discussion topics and satirical observations about modern society.