Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Review: Providence by Caroline Kepnes

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft are almost certain to be intrigued by Providence, the latest offering from bestselling author Caroline Kepnes (You, Hidden Bodies.) The novel opens with Jon and Chloe, two kids growing up in a small American town, who are slowly falling in love. Jon is a bit well, different from the other kids in town and, consequently, becomes prey for the local bully. Chloe is a bit different as well, but she hides it by trying to fit in. It's a plot within itself, but as the blurb promises, this is a Caroline Kepnes novel and the worst is yet to come. And it does, in the form of a nutty substitute teacher who has been unduly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Jon is abducted by his teacher, made the subject of a strange experiment and is released four years later--and with newfound powers that allow him, very passively, to inflict great harm on others. From there we have a story about the mayhem that unfolds with a young man struggles to understand his newfound and unwanted powers, the young woman he loves struggling to reconcile who she is and who she wants to be with (Jon, who allows her the freedom to be herself, or bully Carrig who can offer her a straightforward relationship and life, but who will deny her a sense of self,) and a cop with a troubled personal life who is trying to hunt them down.

Twisty, yet surprisingly slow in places, I found Providence to be a novel that remained subversive of stereotypes as it tells the story of someone who has unwanted superpowers. Don't expect Jon to turn into the next DC or Marvel superhero. Don't expect Chloe to become Lois Lane. The Lovecraft references are quite amusing, though I suspect that I would have got more out of them had I been a little more familiar with the author and his work. There are some interesting questions raised about the level of agency that people have over themselves. There are various cruel twists of fate. The sting with this one is while there are some great moments, the novel as a whole became quite tiresome as I felt that the plot didn't always come together as neatly as it should. Or to put it another way, the novel's greatest strength--it's subversiveness--sometimes felt like its greatest weakness. The prose itself, as with Kepnes previous offerings, is very well done.

Recommended for those times when you're looking for something a bit different.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my ARC of Providence.