Caroline Kepnes on ‘You Love Me’: ‘Joe mixes love and control’

Caroline Kepnes, author of the ‘You’ series  

Though the well-read serial killer Joe Goldberg, (Penn Badgley) settles down to domestic bliss with Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) and baby Henry in the suburbs in the third season of the Netflix show You, his print avatar, that the show is based on, marches to a different drum.

‘You Love Me’, the third book in the series Special Arrangement

‘You Love Me’, the third book in the series Special Arrangement  

Caroline Kepnes’ You Love Me (Simon & Schuster, ₹550), the third book in the series, following You (2014) and Hidden Bodies (2016) sees Joe fed up with cities, moving to Bainbridge Island in the Pacific Northwest. Working as a volunteer at the local library, Joe’s rampaging cognitive dissonance sees him determined to make the librarian, Mary Kay DiMarco, love him.

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“Joe on screen is different from Joe on the page,” says Kepnes over a video call from Los Angeles. “When I sat down to write You Love Me, I went back to my notes from 2015. I did not want to write a book to respond to the show. I wanted these books to have the integrity and their own world so that the show can also have its own world.”

Doing the best

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg and Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn in You

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg and Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn in You   | Photo Credit: JOHN P. FLEENOR/NETFLIX

The makers’ goal, Kepnes says is to make the best TV show they can make. “My goal is to write the best book I can. We have different strategies of doing that. In some ways, it is easier because the Love Quinn in the show is not one I built. At this point, the show is fully in its own direction, and I get to go back to my direction.”

In the books, we do not know much about Joe, including how old he is. “When I was writing the first book, for all I knew the only people who would ever read it, would be my mum and aunts. I thought he would be in his early 30s. It was part of the blur, where Joe does not tell you how old he is. He does not think of himself as one of us. So he is not going to announce his age. It is part of his ultimate secrecy. I felt with his parents the way they are, it could turn out that he is older or younger than he thinks he is.”

In your head

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg and Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn in You

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg and Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn in You   | Photo Credit: JOHN P. FLEENOR/NETFLIX

That is what is fascinating about the TV show, where an actor, a living person is attached to a part and has an age in real life, Kepnes says. “You started as a total head trip with every book taking place in Joe’s head. He is in control of what he dishes out. When I am writing, I still go back to reminding myself we do not know what Joe looks like in the book world.”

The 44-year-old writer says she wrote You as a way to process the grief of losing her father to cancer. “Joe came out of loneliness. Initially it was directly about the experience. The more I started writing, the more it became about other things.”

Joe never seems to catch a break because he mixes love and control, says Kepnes. “That is part of his tragedy. Ultimately, it is all about the cage, he wants someone to want to give up their whole life and be with him. I feel, ‘Oh Joe, if you can learn how to get along and how to share but you cannot. I love him trying and that is where I am going with each book. And then to see him slowly destroy what he has, because he just cannot share, he wants everyone to be perfect in a way that none of us are. So until he gets over that, his relationships are doomed.”

Flashlight on faults

Kepnes says she was inspired by Miggs killing himself in The Silence of the Lambs. “Joe’s power is his toxicity. He can move into a town and push things around to force everyone to deal with their toxicity, he is a little flashlight. While he does not kill anyone in You Love Me, if he never went to Bainbridge Island, they will probably still be alive.”

Far from being a serial killer, Kepnes sees Joe as a complicated human being full of paradoxes. “He is anti-social. This character also grew out of my response to social media. You cannot love 500 people and know about them every day. Part of that connection is kind of hollow. Joe was representative of social media. He knows how to connect on the surface, and that is what makes him so good at getting into people's lives. But at heart, he does not have a genuine connection. It is also one of the reasons he does not reveal his age. On social media you can use a different picture and birthday, pretending to be younger or older.”

Cupcake conundrum

The effect of social media will not be apparent for 50 years, Kepnes says. “I try not to overthink it. It is there, like cupcakes. I could eat all of them and feel guilty. While I have been able to have friendships because of the internet, I feel for the children who are growing up now, who would not know the aloneness, wonder and speculation.

Stories and Lives creep Kepnes out because of the way one knows what a person is doing physically in that moment. “When things went wrong with someone in the past, you could try and forget that person exists, which you cannot do now thanks to social media. That was something I wanted to get into in this book. Joe is Google stalking and insta-stalking his own baby! If this was 30 years ago, you would not be able to do that without physical activity.”

Working as an entertainment journalist helped Kepnes as a novelist. “As a journalist on a deadline, you have to learn to move on, you cannot be obsessing over something forever. As journalism is about communication, it helped me find my voice and clarity.”

Teach, inspire and hinder

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in You

Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in You   | Photo Credit: JOHN P. FLEENOR/NETFLIX

One of the things about the books is the amount of pop culture that is channelled into it from Stephen King and Dan Brown to every rom-com trope there is. “Pop culture informs our lives to a great extent. I was thinking about the movies, books and music that inform who I am. I loved using that to make them relatable as well as show how our minds are full of all the things that we consume. And the ways in which they teach, inspire and hinder us. Part of Joe’s problem is that he wants the movie or book love. He wants to live in those highs and that is how he winds up in the lows.”

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 6:57:34 AM |

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