As Liz weathers another assault by her abusive husband Marc, something seems to take control of her body, defending her from his vicious attack. In the aftermath, she is relieved and unsettled, but chalks her cunfusion up to trauma. But as the days go on, the presence—which calls itself, herself Beth—refuses to leave. She gets Liz into fights, welcomes confrontation, and seems happy to escalate any situation as long as doing so is a means to her ends. Beth says she’s another version of Liz, one who can do what’s needed to survive, one who’s seen what will happen if Marc gets his way.
Meanwhile, Fran, a former kidnapping victim suffering from recurring hallucinations, experiences visions of two women overlapping like a double-exposed photo whenever she looks at Liz. As Beth’s behavior becomes more erratic, evidence indicates that Liz and Fran’s past traumas may be connected, and their shared hallucinations may be something altogether more real.
In Someone Like Me, M.R. Carey explores psychological horror, and doesn’t go easy on himself. The novel seeks to portray mental illness, trauma, and toxic situations in ways that seem both grounded in reality and steeped in the supernatural. Carey, who reinvented zombie tropes left and right in The Girl with All the Gifts, happily proves himself more than up to the task, respecting the emotional and mental truths of his protagonists even from within a narrative filled with darkness and doubt. The result is a suspenseful, disturbing, and emotionally honest read, with a pair of unreliable narrators who transcend the barbed hook of the premise.
Reading a fictional portrayal of mental illness can be a distancing experience; characters can become lost in narrative tricks more concerned with causing us to question what’s happening and what isn’t than to consider the whys. Someone Like Me is so compelling because it treats the episode experienced by each narrator as if they are happening, rooting the reader in the action of the scene and not allowing that sense of detachment to set in. Carey remembers that in these high-stress moments, everything feels real, even if it isn’t, and that commitment to emotional honesty carries the book onward even as the narrative reality begins to fracture . What happens to Liz and Fran is really happening, even—and especially—when it isn’t.
Where some thrillers go for shocks and scares, this one reaches out more tenderly. Everyone around Liz and Fran seems to genuinely be trying to help. The cops offer sincere suggestions to help Liz deal with harassment, and a therapist does all he can to give Liz and Fran the tools to overcome their respective problems. While this help may be limited, and in some cases misguided, everyone’s at least trying—and it’s certainly not often the case in a genre that often paints the world outside its protagonists as alien and hostile. Carey outlines a few real-world coping strategies that the characters attempt—from Fran’s focus on chess as a way to overcome her trauma at the hands of the abductor known as the shadowman, to Liz’s decision to give meditation a go—and it’s a welcome change to see characters in a psychological thriller trying everything they can and leaning on their support networks. This is a book that treats mental illness with compassion and honesty instead of as a sideshow curiosity, a loses not one bit of tension for it.
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