Watch Me is a modern day Fatal Attraction. A story of obsession and enthrallment, small mistakes and large consequences, this novel is the tale of what can happen when we step off the safe, mundane path life has set for us.
Kate Youngblood is lamenting her mediocrity. Recently divorced, she is slowly coming to grips with the reality that women who are close to forty are not a hot commodity on the dating scene. Her plan to be a multi-bestselling author has completely stalled and it looks as though her first psychological thriller may also be the only decent book she ever writes. Her academic career, as a creative writing teacher, is in jeopardy; although she’s up for tenure she is not a favorite with faculty or students. She’s always thought of herself as special; smart, attractive, strong and just the right amount of risqué and daring. Now she’s realizing that her best years are behind her and she is likely to fade into obscurity, just another middle-aged woman who had a mildly interesting youth but has nothing to distinguish her in the present.
Sam Grist has all the potential, talent, drive and beauty that Kate once had. Easily the best student writer she has ever come across, Kate is for once anxious to do her job well. She can mentor Sam, fan the flames of his talent until they burn so bright they light the paths of both their futures. The great news is Sam seems as eager to learn as she is to teach. The only problem is, the lessons he is after don’t involve literature.
Life is full of pulls towards the forbidden; the extra cookie we absolutely shouldn’t have, the shoes we definitely can not afford, the car that will swallow up our whole paycheck, the relationship that pulls us toward the dark side. It’s no accident that these things find us at our weak times: the cookie glistens with colorful sugary flecks most brightly on the days we fight with our children; the shoes appear seemingly from nowhere on the day we realize that a layer of makeup no longer covers the fine lines on our face and the mysterious, enticing stranger shows up when we find ourselves bored with our average life and longing for some adventure. This theme is so relatable to everyone that we should be able to immediately sympathize with Kate and the dark road her life is about to go down.
Unfortunately, the author fails to connect us sufficiently to her characters to let empathy build. Loner Kate, with her odd ideas about love, and her utter disdain for those around her, doesn’t fill us with pity and understanding but a vague horror that we too can appear this desperate to our acquaintances when we are going through dark times. She is also not very bright. How many people still leave notes next to the computer with their passwords? How hard is it to memorize a short sequence of letters and numbers that completely rule your life? Sam fares even worse than Kate does; he is an utter cliché; a psychopath whose problems are laid at the door of a drug addicted, sexually promiscuous mother.
Snail’s pace plotting adds to the story’s woes. Each bad decision Kate makes, each bizarre action of Sam’s occurs in agonizing slow motion. It took me close to a week to read this book, where the previous two mysteries I had recently perused took under a day each.
The lack of empathy and lethargic pacing led to what is the killing blow to any suspense novel: a lack of urgency. I had no desire to turn the page and see what happened next because I didn’t care what happened next. And the buildup took so long that no moment came as a surprise or shock; there was zero suspense because the author telegraphed what the characters were going to do long before they actually did it.
The bright spot in all this is Jody Gehrman’s prose. It is clear and crisp, each scene painted with the perfect amount of detail. While Kate isn’t a very sympathetic character the author is able to capture with absolute perfection the emotions and reality of a middle-aged woman and that sense of invisibility that comes with aging. There are shining sequences in the story that highlight the odd experience of being human; smoking furtively like criminals on a back porch and a comical scene where Sam is told his writing is unrealistic when it is re-creating an event from his life exactly the way it occurred. These things keep the story from being bad but unfortunately, don’t raise it to the level of good.
Watch Me is a book that falls in the hinterland of recommendations. If it were a novel in a sparsely populated genre, it might be worth reading simply because it’s rare. However, the suspense field, especially psychological thrillers, is saturated right now. Good books abound and unless illicit teacher-student relationships hold a particular interest for you, I think readers would be better served choosing a different novel.