Recently I was lucky enough to come across Leo Benedictus's Read Me in, of all places, a Dollar General. The lesson here? You never know when you'll come across something that adds a little joy to your life. I absolutely could not resist picking up a book that was ordering me to read it, and I'm glad I followed directions.
The novel follows an unnamed protagonist who decides, upon coming into a generous inheritance, to pursue his dream of stalking women pretty much non-stop. His narration, which pulls the reader in by addressing it specifically to us ("You're being very patient. You want the nitty-gritty, and you're right…well, I am a rich man, as you have heard, and…you know my name.") keeps us engaged as he takes us through his increasing risks regarding how much he intercedes in his subject's lives. This culminates with Frances, with whom he finally crosses the line from passive observer to active participant. Things spin out of hand from there.
While the style of narration immediately reminded me of Caroline Kepnes's You, I found myself thinking more of John Fowles's The Collector, another first-person account of a stalking and a kidnapping. While all three or those novels do revolve around a first-person account of the stalking and kidnapping of a woman, I felt like Read Me was more of a spiritual successor to The Collector than You. If nothing else, the three novels reveal that a story can follow the same general outline and have vastly different outcomes.
What makes Read Me worth reading in addition to both You and The Collector is the way in which Read Me asks us to consider our own observational habits, usually unobtrusive of course but still present. It invites us to consider the way we judge people when we're outside their bubble, and also to think of what motivates the critiques we have. It's a meditation on how toxic tendencies can take root and grow in our psyche without us even realizing how far out of hand it's gotten. It clocks in at a lean 252 pages, long enough to leave a hollow space in your gut when you finish reading it.