Look at me reading another 2023 book; I’m hip and totally ready to embrace being a bookstagrammer or booktoker … nah, just kidding, I’m not creative enough for that, and also, people who use the word “hip” aren’t hip. I know my place. Anyhow, I say all that to say, I read Jeneva Rosa’s 2023 novel, You Shouldn’t Have Come Here. And I have to state upfront, I’m conflicted about the boo. On one hand, I read the book in a handful of sittings throughout the day today, and on the other hand, I didn’t like the ending! Not liking the ending, or more accurately, thinking it didn’t work, colors my assessment of a book.
Rose’s novel follows Grace, a NYC banker who comes to Dubois, Wyoming on a literal whim for her vacation, and Calvin, a country boy who operates a ranch and rents it out via Airbnb. Pluck a city girl and stick her in the country with a mysterious country boy, and that’s the mystery premise. The structure of the novel — and I wonder if this is a new style, as I’ve seen it with other recent books, too — shifts from Grace’s perspective to Calvin’s perspective throughout the 10 days of Grace’s stay at in Dubois.
What’s interesting about the book is that not much actually happens for the first 75 pages or so. Grace flees a seemingly creepy gas station attendant on her way to the ranch, but I was getting Urban Legend vibes where the gas station attendant wasn’t trying to accost her, but help her (and I was later proven right). Then, once at the ranch, Calvin seems to hint at a darker past, and obviously, something is amiss about the fact that he keeps his basement padlocked shut. There’s also the matter of the screaming girl who wakes Grace up in the middle of the night, which Calvin plays off as a mating fox. Yet, also, mystery surrounds Grace, because it does seem far-fetched that she threw a dart at a map to come to DuBois, Wyoming from NYC, and Charlotte, or “Char,” Calvin’s best friend and “mistaken” one-night stand, seems to sense something is off about Grace, but Calvin doesn’t believe her, thinking she’s jealous. So it goes. All the while, Calvin and Grace are ogling each other, with Calvin coming on strong with his feelings despite only knowing Grace for a handful of days. However, every time they are about to have sex, they are interrupted by someone or something (don’t worry, they later have sex).
Also interspersed between the vague foreshadowing and sexual tension are random acts of terror that befall Grace: falling into a pit of dead animals, being nearly mauled to death by a mountain lion, and nearly being killed in a fire when Joe sets Calvin’s curtains ablaze. Oh, and less terror, but still a giant red flag, there’s the fact that her car mysteriously stops working and Calvin seems to be dragging his feet on helping her fix it. Or the other red flag of a random guy named Albert showing up as another Airbnb guest, but who is actually the uncle to Calvin and Joe.
About half-way through the story, my feeling was: Maybe the title is referring to both of them. The obvious implication is that Grace “shouldn’t have come here,” with “here” being this out in the boonies ranch with a stranger, but I also thought we were going to learn that Calvin, who came back from Colorado to work his parents’ ranch after they died, shouldn’t have come back, either. I just didn’t know quite what Grace’s angle would be. We later learn that Calvin’s brother, Joe, was implicated in a crash that killed Calvin’s girlfriend, Lisa. But then Grace learns that it was Calvin behind the wheel and he framed his brother for it. So, then I’m thinking, okay, she’s Grace’s sister out for revenge perhaps.
With Calvin, his innuendos get more glaring as the story progresses: Grace isn’t leaving after 10 days. She will be his forever. Even at the beginning, when he hinted at stuff like that, it was creepy and not at all charming! But by the end of the novel, it’s clear he’s behind the disappearance of a prior Airbnb renter, and he doesn’t intend to let Grace leave. When his evil side does show and he attacks Grace, it wasn’t surprising. Even when Grace gets the upper-hand because she (I think!) drugged Calvin’s coffee, I wasn’t surprised. I was like, okay, she’s either Lisa’s sister out for revenge, or perhaps even Bri’s (the missing Airbnb renter) sister seeking out answers about her sister’s disappearance.
… instead, Grace is a serial killer? What?! She does, indeed, pick random places to go and kill people. Because she’s a psychopath, who enjoys killing people, she tells us. Yes, she has a husband and two children back home in Chicago, Illinois, but she ventures out from time to time with the “itch” to kill people. It just so happened that Calvin was also a killer, albeit for a different reason. That makes no sense! The way for that reveal to make sense, in my humble opinion, is a.) if the book wasn’t structured as it was because it makes no sense for Grace to pretend to us that she’s scared of this or that while staying at the ranch, or of Calvin; in other words, there’s no reason for her to wear the mask to us when the book is told from her perspective, and so, when the reveal happens, it feels cheap, but if the book wasn’t told from Grace’s perspective, then you could buy her being a psychopath; and b.) if like I said, instead of Grace being a psychopath, she was Lisa or Bri’s sister, aunt, mother, whatever the case, seeking revenge on Calvin, because then structurally, when we’re getting Grace’s point-of-view, even someone out for revenge could have moments of fear and terror.
To put it another way, when Rose revealed Grace was a serial killer who enjoyed killing (and it wasn’t that she sought out people she thought was bad; she just liked killing! I would have found the former more plausible), it didn’t ring true — this wasn’t the Grace character we just spent the prior 265 pages getting to know. It felt like a twist for the sake of a twist, and I don’t think that’s fair to the reader. Hence, my conflicted feelings when it comes to Rose’s book! I devoured it in one day, the writing was fun and interesting to keep me reading, and the premise (and structure) was executed in a way to make me want to know who was playing who, but I’m not sure the ending lived up to its promise.
I still gave the book five stars on Goodreads because my general rule of thumb is if I enjoyed a book enough to finish it, there’s no reason to go lower than five stars, and in this case, I’m not sure it’s fair to go lower when I disagree with plotting and character choices. I’m just one reader.
I would love to know what others thought of the ending, though!