Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Book Review: WATCH ME

Title: Watch Me
Author: Jody Gehrman
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Pages: 310
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Sam Grist has signed up for a creative writing course, not to improve his writing, but to get closer to the teacher, Kate Youngblood, with whom he is obsessed. He has devoured all her books and literally knows everything about them and her.

Her first novel, Pay Dirt, captivates him to the point of madness. He drums up his obsession to believe that they could run away to New York, where they would eat, write, have sex, repeat.

At first Kate, aged 38, can’t deny the attraction. Sam, aged 22, is so enigmatic, so forceful, she feels drawn to him. She tells herself that he is vulnerable. Divorced after having caught her ex-husband in the very act, she is lonely and feels undesired. She longs for male attention, to know that she matters as a woman. This is her weakness and Sam takes advantage of it. The fact that Zoe, her best friend is married and has a newborn baby who needs her completely also exposes her weakness.

Kate is excited about Sam's writing. She fantasises about being his mentor, helping him to hone and sharpen his writing. But Sam is not looking for a mentor so much as a lover.

But then Sam crosses the line, hacking into her email, breaking into her home and office, doing whatever it takes to get closer to her. In doing so, he is willing to remove the obstacles that stand in his way by any means possible. He will do whatever needs to be done to bring his fantasy to life, he and Kate together, writing bestsellers, and having a sexual, mutually obsessive relationship.

Hurt by her divorce, Kate worries that far from being attractive, she is no longer even visible to the opposite sex. Deeply messed up, at one level, she almost encourages his advances, or at least isn’t quite so forceful in discouraging him, just because it feels great to be wanted. She seems to be under his spell. 

She thinks, My life before thirty had a bouncy, upbeat soundtrack, a sinewy bass line with sex at the core. Now I’m in a silent movie.

The trouble is that even though she knows that there is a lot that’s off about him (To me, blood’s another substance, like rain or sap or ink), she can’t deny her feelings. This can only get worse. But how?

Sam’s writing is a close rendition of the truth. Kate wonders if he has killed before. 

Unable to seek advice from anyone, Kate is at the end of her tether. Zoe, is supportive, but can’t do much for her, hemmed as she is between a newborn and her own sleep deprivation.

To make matters worse for Kate, the head of the English department detests her and thwarts her at every step.
How will Kate extricate herself from this situation?

The book is written from the first person present tense PoVs of Sam and Kate.

As a character, I liked Kate. Her vulnerability, the fact that she was flawed enough to make faulty choices. I liked the fact that she loved books, loved the smell of them, loved writing, the art and craft of it.

Kate looks for the perfect metaphor even in the midst of the worst situations. She clings to her art, trying to make sense of the chaos around her.

Sam is a powerful character. Totally amoral, there is nothing he won't do to achieve his aims. The language from his PoV has a rough edge. His insults are sharp: She is young... it will be lifetimes before she's even progressed past infancy.

In a self-revelatory moment, he lets us see him fully. It's not healthy to show people the basement of your soul. Keep them upstairs. In the kitchen or the bedroom. Never give them a tour of your cellar, where the air is fetid and dark. Don't point out the cockroaches skittering across the dripping, slimy walls. Don't show them where you've hidden the bodies.

Another thing I liked about this book was that there was so much related to the craft and the sheer exhilaration of writing. Kate needs to get a thousand words done each morning. Waking up dying to get back to the story only I can tell… because I have got a paragraph inside my head that has to come out. That paragraph turns into a page, and that page turns into a scene… I’m flying through the story, free-falling without a net.

The book captures the writer's life so perfectly. It never goes away, that sense that you have turned yourself inside out for the world, that you have slaved to expose every muscle, tendon and vein; in response, the world casually throws acid at your steaming innards.

Elsewhere she speaks of a war with words, my torrid affair with verbiage, my love-hate relationship with my characters.

She tells us about how the ideas come to her, all sagged and wilted after a few pages, their characters losing steam, wandering off into the fog.

She imagines her life as a book jacket blurb and describes it as trying to stuff a bag of squirming cats into a hatbox. She tries to milk her own life, squirreling away the details for later use.

I enjoyed reading about the classroom sessions in which the students all dissect and critique one another’s writing. The conversations on the craft of writing I lapped up.

The prose is beautiful. Isn’t it sad, the way we grasp the beauty of everything too late? We stumble through life like sleepwalkers, floating on the mundane, resentful of everyday inconveniences… Only in the last seconds of our lives do we realize how much we want to live.

The figures of speech were a treat: Vivienne tore through men in a way that was both casual and desperate, like a bulimic gorging on junk food she'll soon puke.

This story about obsession and dangerous desire was intriguing. On the lookout for more from this author.

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