I enjoyed Stephanie Kuehn’s Delicate Monsters so much that I couldn’t wait to read her latest book The Smaller Evil. However, I was a little concerned when I read some early reviews from several people who said they didn’t understand the ending. After reading it, I’m not sure what the ending means either.
Arman is a seventeen-year-old who has anxiety issues and hates himself, so he goes to this weeklong retreat in Big Sur with two of his friends, Dale and Kira. Beau is the leader and Arman seems to idolize him. They have all of these weird sharing meetings. It sounds like one of those brainwashing cult things where they get you to follow their bizarre beliefs. Beau disappears and when Arman explains Beau’s disappearance to everyone, nobody believes him. Arman feels trapped so he has no choice but to solve Beau’s disappearance.
I like weird novels, but sometimes, such as this one, they’re so weird that I don’t understand them. I have a college degree. I consider myself to have at least average intelligence. Granted, I have more of a creative mind than a logical one, but generally, I can make heads or tails about the novels I read. This novel made me feel stupid because I’m not exactly sure what the point of the story was. I have some theories, but I’m not even sure if I can share some of them without giving anything away.
At the beginning of the novel, Arman wanted to be accepted and not feel invisible, but he thought he was a complete screw-up at everything he did. He felt clueless and asked a lot of questions, but everyone around him seemed to know what was going on at the retreat. After Beau disappeared, Arman didn’t have a choice but to stand up for himself. Maybe that was the point. I could be totally wrong, after all, Stephanie Kuehn is a post-doctoral fellow in clinical psychology, so maybe there’s some deeper meaning.
I had to Google “doctrine of double effect” although it’s defined in the story and it’s the only time that I recall the novel mentioning the title.
In between the chapters, there are shorter segments that are italicized, but it’s unclear who is speaking or its purpose.
Overall, I’m disappointed. I’m barely giving this three stars. It’s not horrible, just confusing. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, but at the end, I had more questions than answers. If you’ve never read a Stephanie Kuehn novel, I recommend Delicate Monsters, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend The Smaller Evil.
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