Best known for zombie-apocalypse thriller The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey explores a subtler infestation in Someone Like Me, juxtaposing two troubled women whose coping mechanisms have taken on lives of their own. When Liz Kendall is assaulted by her abusive ex-husband, her body retaliates violently without her input, her hand operating “like a glove on someone else’s hand.” “She hadn’t willed this; she had only watched it, her nervous system dragged along in the wake of decisions made (instantly, enthusiastically) elsewhere.” Liz’s therapist speculates that, finding her life in danger, she created an alter ego to handle a task too repellant for the conscious Liz to touch. But once evoked, this restless new iteration of Liz—who appears to have arrived with an agenda of her own—is not so easily dispelled.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Fran Watts suffers from hallucinatory episodes in the wake of a childhood trauma and draws comfort from the protective presence of “Lady Jinx,” a sword-wielding cartoon character from her favorite TV show. (Fran is conscious of Jinx’s unreality but regards her as a “cherished symptom.” “Maybe you’re my symptom,” the vision counters airily.) Part of the fun of both storylines is the question of whether these psychological visitations represent a real supernatural manifestation, and Carey is careful not to tip either hand too early in the game. (In a Stephen King-esque touch, he also cannily inserts smaller, odder questions to maintain our investment: why, Fran wonders, does her imagined companion have a speech impediment that the televised Jinx does not?)
At its bloodiest and most baleful, Someone Like Me can’t quite work up the Gone Girl level of feminist shock it aims for—the bent of its storyline forces goodhearted single mother Liz to remain frustratingly disassociated from her vengeful double “Beth”—but its human-focused horror should be a draw for the “Stranger Things” crowd. The unfolding friendship between Liz’s teenaged son Zac and the outcast Fran invites a similar sympathy for the freaks and loners of the world, and it’s not hard to imagine the hag-ridden Liz played by Winona Ryder. Before you start casting the Netflix adaptation, however, appreciate the features baked into the literary format, such as the changing icons in the chapter headings that hint at whose perspective is coming next. Just as The Girl With All the Gifts reengineered the zombie pandemic, Someone Like Me plumbs familiar horror premises to find a few new ingredients for the old Hyde formula.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with M.R. Carey.