“I love the obsessive mind, and I’ve always been an obsessive person,” says author Caroline Kepnes, whose talent for the all-consuming has benefited book publishers and Hollywood showrunners alike for the past seven years.
In 2014, Kepnes published the thriller “You,” introducing readers to Joe Goldberg, a bookish heartthrob whose highbrow taste and social media know-how made him a dream lover for unsuspecting women — before he eventually revealed himself as a serial killer. A thoroughly modern antihero, portrayed by Penn Badgley on the Netflix original series based on Kepnes’ books, the character of Goldberg is a dangerous and charismatic mirror to our Instagram-crafted identities.
Following the publication of the first two books in the series, “You” and “Hidden Bodies,” Random House announced in 2019 that there would be two more installments, which will diverge from the narrative on the Netflix show, produced by Greg Berlanti and showrunner Sera Gamble. The first one up is “You Love Me,” which comes out April 6 and (mild spoilers ahead) sees Goldberg released from prison and starting anew on the Pacific Northwest hamlet of Bainbridge Island.
“I left readers hanging in 2016,” Kepnes says. “I left this character locked up and anticipating so much. I’ve been dying to do this for the readers for a long time. I wanted a break in between, and I wanted people to sit with where he was. We find him in this new life, walking into a library, and there is a woman librarian. That was what was really exciting for this book, to see him tangle with someone who is a responsible, grounded adult.”
Kepnes, who has written for TV series including ”7th Heaven” and “The Secret Life of the American Teen-ager,” has a devout showbiz following that includes Lena Dunham and Stephen King. She also heavily references great works of pop culture: Goldberg’s own obsessions run from the films of Mike Nichols to the quaint “Cedar Cove” book series by Debbie Macomber. Kepnes says this lends a sense of comfort to a plot full of dark turns.
“I do love extremes,” she says. “I love when something is so well defined in its own special way. When you’re in ’7th Heaven,’ you know that no one is going to swear. When you’re with Joe Goldberg, you know that eventually something is going to send him off the deep end. Being inside of his mind, in a way, helps you map your own — what we say and don’t say, who we are and pretend to be.”
While Joe is continually struggling with a larger sense of belonging, Kepnes says her new novel will be especially resonant in a pandemic-stricken world.
“None of us are our best social selves right now, and in that way social media is so prescient and maybe deceptive,” she says. “In the book, Joe uses social media in an antisocial way, but he is also using it to look for happiness and love. It’s interesting for me to write, because he’s trying so bad to be a part of things. He doesn’t have that one person to text. It’s that stark loneliness that’s amplified by him being exposed to the life in our feeds.”