TW/CW for this book: sexual manipulation, emotional and physical abuse, and allusions to and discussion of child physical and sexual abuse.
Summary: Jane Doe is a first-person POV thriller – author Victoria Helen Stone calls it “emotional suspense” in our podcast interview, and I think it’s an ideal term for this book.
Jane is a sociopath. She knows it, and she’s done considerable research to figure out why and how she was different from other people.
Jane is intent on two things: inserting herself into the life of a man who hurt someone she cared about, and then destroying him. She uses an abuser’s techniques against him, and becomes a wonderfully scary and intoxicating predator in the process, figuring out first how, then when to take revenge on Steven.
I read this book in one day at RT, on the last day of the conference, and stayed up WAY too late to finish it. It’s so difficult to put down. And I’ve been sitting on my hands to keep from spoiling it for Elyse, who I know hadn’t read it yet.
FINALLY SHE DID.
Elyse: I just finished Jane Doe and I think I need a cigarette. That was the most satisfying book I’ve read in ages.
Sarah: I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO HAVE READ IT. I’m so excited to talk about this book with you.
I know many people don’t like first-person POV, I have to say, spending a book inside the head of a person who has no capacity to experience shame, fear, guilt, or remorse was so incredibly liberating.
I love how the story mixes mystery, thriller, and a tiny bit of romance, too. We as the reader know she’s getting revenge, but the why, and the how – and the when – are all part of the mystery. And seeing how close she gets to killing Steven before she’s ready is also part of the suspense.
Elyse: Jane is a sociopath, she’s aware of it, and that’s where her power comes from. Without the first person narrative, we’d be unable to stay three moves ahead of Steven (the villain) who doesn’t even realize he’s playing chess.
I spent a long time thinking about Jane’s sociopathy after I finished this book. My understanding of sociopaths is mostly informed by crime thrillers that suggest sociopaths are rare creatures who morph into serial killers. Jane disabuses us of that notion, and of the idea that she cannot form meaningful interpersonal relationships.
Jane is an immensely likeable character and I envied her total lack of self-doubt and recrimination. Jane never questions her value or intelligence, and she has no hang ups regarding her body or sexuality. Reading through her eyes felt incredibly liberating. And because Jane isn’t bogged down by self-doubt, she’s able to completely focus on observing and destroying Steven. She’s immune to everything he throws at her.
He cannot manipulate or hurt a woman who has no regard for his opinion and never questions her power.
Sarah: I can’t begin to explain how incredible it was to be so deeply immersed in the experience of a person who has no remorse, no self-doubt. I was taught to carry around copious amounts of self-doubt at a young age, as I imagine many people were, and being in Jane’s POV meant seeing situations without any guilt or shame whatsoever. She accepts herself exactly as she is, because nothing prevents her from doing so.
I also admire how she makes decisions so quickly; she doesn’t have to worry about how her decisions affect anyone. That’s the point of her plan, in fact. She doesn’t care about what happens to Steven because he didn’t care what happened to the people he hurt. Jane also constantly reframes his behavior and habits, which are terribly familiar, and uses his sexism and misogyny against him in ways he doesn’t catch or understand. He is so outclassed. Every way in which he is toxic and entitled is an opportunity to manipulate him, and Jane does so over and over again.
My one wish was that the final showdown was longer, more drawn out. It took so long, so many careful steps to get there, that I went back and re-read the final scenes a few times to extend the vicarious catharsis of watching her destroy Steven. The final scenes are short, and I wanted more to savor.
I will definitely re-read this book. Fun story: after I finished it, and so deeply identified with the cold, calculating rage Jane displays toward an abusive man, I was a little worried and took a online quiz (which are NEVER wrong, of course) to ask if I was a sociopath. The quiz openly laughed at me for asking. But I still think about this book months after I read it. I also think constantly about the ways shame, self-doubt, and fear influence my decisions – and how I can diminish their importance in my perspective.
My grade: B. I wanted more at the end, and felt that the final explosion didn’t quite balance the carefully increased tension of the build-up, but I have never read a book like this one, and am so, so glad I did.
Elyse: I do agree with you about the end being a little short. Jane gets her revenge, but it wasn’t quite painful enough for me. Maybe I’m too bloodthirsty. Maybe I’m too sick of reading about men like Steven who don’t face any real consequences for their actions.
As I said above, I spent a lot of time thinking about Jane and her sociopathy and I questioned whether her character was truly a sociopath or rather a study of a woman who is completely freed from the anxieties and insecurities that stem from living in a patriarchal culture. Steven cannot shame Jane about her body or sexaulity because she feels no shame regarding either. She’s completely comfortable in her skin. She’s successful professionally because she doesn’t undervalue or downplay her intelligence and ability to succeed in a male-dominated world. She doesn’t become entrapped in the toxic behavior of her mother.
As I read this book I thought, what if Jane is not a sociopath, but rather an example of a what a woman can be when all the baggage that comes from being a woman is stripped away–the doubt, the irrational sense of familial duty, the self-criticism? She has such immense power in that way. What if all women were like that? What a terrifying world that would be for so many men.
That said, she’s absolutely capable of killing Steven without remorse or a second through which does suggest she’s a sociopath, but if you remove her ability to commit homicide with a totally clear conscious, I think Jane can be read as a character to aspire to.
For me this book is an A-. Aside from a slightly rushed ending, it was immensely satisfying, surprisingly empowering, and a story that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Sarah: This is always the challenge with joint reviews (though I am SO GLAD to have someone to talk about this book with FINALLY OMG). If you’re giving an A-, and I’m at a B, shall we average between them to a B+?
Elyse: That works for me.
Sarah: If you’re interested in this book, I hope y’all will come back and tell us your thoughts. I really want to know what you think!