Full disclosure: I have read Caroline Kepnes' other two books, You and Hidden Bodies, and came into reading Providence with preconceptions of the author's writing style. In her previous two books, which are part of a series, the main character, Joe, manipulates and inserts himself into the lives of his object of obsession for the moment. In order to maintain these relationships, he stalks and even kills. These books are written through Joe's perspective, forcing the author to put herself in the mind of a sociopath. Although I picked up Providence knowing that it was a different story than the one told in the You series, I still anticipated a darker narrative than the one that exists in Kepnes' latest work. Instead, I read a touching story about a boy who is robbed of his childhood only to return with the most terrible of gifts: the ability to kill those he hates as well as the people he loves.
Providence is told through three narrative perspectives: Jon, the boy-turned-monster, Chloe, who is Jon's star-crossed lover, and Eggs, the man investigating the string of fatal heart attacks that Jon is responsible for. This book has been marketed as a paranormal thriller, but these three characters have their own love stories. Jon and Chloe are the soulmates who must never be together, or else Chloe will die; Eggs is a detective, a husband to a literature professor and a father to a boy with autism. Chuckie, Eggs' son resides in a care facility, where he is only visited by his mother. The string of heart attacks serves as a quest that Eggs must see through so that he can achieve the emotional readiness for a relationship with Chuckie. Alongside the DeBenedictus family story, Chloe and Jon are continuously fighting the futile battle of trying to be together. All three of these characters learn through the course of the book that they must learn to love the love they have with all of its flaws, absences, and pain.
The overall tone of this book is so light and magical that I often found myself forgetting the true horror of this book, which is the fact that Jon is in a state of emotional exile because as soon as he becomes emotionally invested in a person, or if they become invested in him and too close in physical proximity, they will die almost instantly. Jon, who begins the book as a boy who craved affection so much that he carried a pet hamster around in his pocket, is kidnapped and turned into a monster who unintentionally kills the people he loves, hates, or even dislikes. I almost lost sight of this until Eggs begins to identify with who he refers to as The Beard, "I bet Jon told her to meet him in the old jewelry store where he spent all those years pining for her. I bet he'll be there on one knee, with a ring he made out of tinfoil or a token of some kind, a piece of their past. An ambulance flies by and I remember what the beard is, a murderer". This is a story of romance, but don't forget that this is also a story of horror.
Note: This review was made possible by Netgalley, where I was able to snag an advanced reader's copy.