Rating: 5 out of 5
Sonora Taylor’s Without Condition introduces us to a 22-year-old serial killer named Cara. When she gets gradually spun up over the voices from her past (largely classmates whispering about her), she kills to ease the feeling. Her mother not only knows, but encourages her, even going to far as to display Cara’s trophies (belts, keychains, hats) on a basement wall. One day, Cara meets Jackson, a pharmacist, and the two have instant chemistry. When she’s with him, she doesn’t feel as much of a need to kill. But can she ever have happiness and love with such a huge secret between them?
This doesn’t line up with the handful of other stories I’ve seen that come at things from a serial killer’s point of view. It isn’t the stream-of-consciousness of an unhinged mind. It isn’t highly stylized or hyper-violent. It isn’t a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. And it isn’t wacky humor. Instead, it turns a social outcast into a protagonist I could actually get invested in. I found myself rooting for her relationship with Jackson, wanting her to be able to trust him and be happy with him. The relationship has its ups and downs. Jackson’s friend Moira sets off some of Cara’s old triggers. Jackson also has a particularly bad relationship with his mother, which does set Cara off a bit as well. Cara’s mother also isn’t handling her new independence very well. The more time Cara spends with Jackson, the more unhappy her mother becomes. And as Cara and her mother’s relationship deteriorates, it becomes harder for Cara to remain in control of her impulses.
The story is really all about Cara as a character and about her relationships with Jackson and her mother. It isn’t a thriller and it doesn’t pit Cara against the authorities. If anything, it demystifies the serial killer compared to most media depictions, revealing her to be messed-up, but still fundamentally human. If you’re looking for a very thoughtful and unusual look into the mind of a serial killer, as well as a wonderful relationship story, this is an excellent read!
Content note: animal harm, animal death, and sexual content.