Review: “Jane Doe,” Victoria Helen Stone

Rating: 5 out of 5

Sure, it’s become more common lately to delve into the minds of sociopaths in our fiction. We’re fascinated by these people and want to understand how they do what they do. In Victoria Helen Stone’s Jane Doe: A Novel (A Jane Doe Thriller), we get a much better look at a sociopath than any I think I’ve seen before. Jane knows what she is, and she’s okay with that. Sometimes she wishes she could feel what others feel, but for the most part she leans into her well-developed ability to manipulate others. Now she’s gone back to Minneapolis–the place she grew up–temporarily leaving behind her apartment in Malaysia. A friend of hers–one might say her only friend, and the only person who mattered to her–killed herself in this town. Jane is determined to ruin those she feels are responsible. She has her own version of not-quite grief, and she aims to deal with it.

Jane shapes her appearance and words to perfectly appeal to the abusive, manipulative man, Steven, whom Meg was seeing off and on. It’s a fairly horrifying look at how some people manipulate others and prey on their low self-esteem. (Heard of “negging”? Yeah, that. Among other things.) As she analyzes each thing he does and her response to it, we can’t miss what a horrible person he is. And yet he seems to genuinely care about the Church, and loves his father the pastor, so he doesn’t fall into a one-note stereotype. (This also serves to remind us that just because a person is “good” in one way or another, doesn’t mean they can’t also be abusive.)

Jane goes back and forth a bit on whether she wants to kill Steven or ruin him in some other way. Her plans evolve over time as she learns more and more about what makes him tick and what secrets he’s hiding. At the same time, she’s hooked up with an old college friend, Luke, who sees her as the one that got away, and who’s accepting of her oddities. She knows she’ll have to leave him behind when she goes back to Malaysia, but she isn’t good at denying herself things that she wants. She’s also incredibly impulsive and impatient. She’s perhaps the only sociopathic character I can remember seeing who isn’t a serial killer, and who doesn’t have some sort of odd total patience with plotting and planning. Waiting only happens when she knows it’ll get her something she wants–like Steven’s ruination. She also spends some time trying to figure out for herself what exactly love is. It’s fascinating to see how she strives to understand “normal” people, and not just see normal people try to understand her.

Content note for sex talk and sex. (They’re handled pretty bluntly, not erotically; see also that whole thing about Jane being a sociopath.) Also for verbal abuse.

As soon as I read this one I downloaded the sequel. I want to see more of Jane.

Being a sociopath doesn’t automatically make someone a genius at killing. I’m learning on the job here.

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