'Tell Me Lies' by Carola Lovering
Remember that time you dated that guy who you later realized might be a sociopath? Well, that's basically what this book is about.
It follows Lucy Albright as she starts at Baird College in California, having crossed the country from preppy Cold Spring Harbor NY. Lucy is pretty, confident and carrying a whole lot of baggage, mostly Mommy Issues. Because you see, her mother once did what Lucy thinks of as The Unforgivable Thing which has colored their relationship since, and in some vague way, I guess is supposed to help explain the situation Lucy later finds herself in. The 'situation' is Stephen DeMarco. At Baird, Lucy meets a guy bursting with charm and self-assurance, even though he really isn't that objectively attractive.
Told from Lucy and Stephen's alternating perspectives, we see Stephen gradually win Lucy over and the two become embroiled in an intense on-and-off thing, even while Stephen is still involved with his ex-girlfriend Diana. Stephen we realize right away, is not ... normal. He watches everyone else experience emotions like love, excitement, and passion and feels only emptiness and boredom, except for when he is producing strong emotions in other people. Being able to get Lucy to lower her defenses and eventually see him, mostly in secret, excites him. And for the next four years of both their lives, they engage in a toxic back-and-forth dance, where Lucy falls deeper and deeper into what-feels-like-love with Stephen, while he pursues his own goals, intermittently taking time out to toy with Lucy's emotions.
What largely keeps Stephen and Lucy going is their intense physical attraction, where they each seem to get something different out of the connection---he seems mostly obsessed with how much she's obsessed with him, and excited by the things he's able to convince her to do; and she is intrigued by his perpetually elusive, always-just-out-of-reach nature.
Reading this book was like watching a slow-motion car crash, or like watching a friend make stupid decisions about some asshole guy ... again, and again ... and again. I liked this story for its relatability---who hasn't been in a dead-end, toxic merry-go-round of a relationship at least once in their life? But despite that, I didn't care for the characters. Not that I didn't 'like' them. I don't need to like them. I just didn't care about them. I was carried through the exasperatingly exhaustive accounts of extreme diets and drug use, and college keggers by the anticipation that this time, finally, Lucy would see Stephen for what he was but ultimately I didn't care that much about her likely ruination. Is that terrible?
Still, despite that flaw, I have to give it to author. She depicted toxicity in new adult relationships pretty well. So, for that ...
My rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑
P.S. I elevated this on my reading list because of the Hulu series, which I've started watching. From the first episode, it departs significantly from the book in ways that make sense, and in one very important way, it actually repairs what felt like a plot weakness in the book.