We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz is a 2021 thriller and the author’s 3rd novel. I read her first book back in 2019, read that similar tale about toxic friendship between women, and it in fact made it to my worst books of 2019 list, not that that said list ever made it onto the internet. I haven’t read her 2nd book, the Herd, yet despite my interest in it and I don’t know if I will anymore. This novel in particular follows Emily and Kristen, best friends who covered up a murder together last summer and now have to do it again this summer. It’s a sticky descent into paranoia, and it is a tale that is centered around abuse—around the abuse men inflict upon women and the abuse that friends inflict upon each other.
It didn’t work for me. I wanted to like it, was convinced for a while that I would. But the book quickly fizzled out, too much going on for it to actually make an impact and too contradictory for the things that were almost impactful to truly hit. The feminism was myopic—focused on white women and straight white women at that—and oblivious to the experiences of anyone outside that bubble.
And this isn’t to say it’s a bad book. I found the plot intriguing. The pacing was fine. The characters were familiar, echoing back to the Lost Night, and while they didn’t shine, they were passable nonetheless. The book was fine. But everything around it? None of it was quite enough,
Spoilers from this point on for We Were Never Here & the Lost Night. You have been warned.
It Was Just a Little too Familiar
Listen, I am a writer, I get it. I circle around ideas and themes and the same types of story. Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t even bother me when authors tread similar ground in books. The Twisted Ones and the Hollow Places are books cut from the same tree. The characters are similar. The style of horror is the same. The themes are echoes of one another. It works for me a lot.
However, when it comes to thrillers, it rarely does. And it certainly didn’t here. Probably because I didn’t care much for the Lost Night or the plot twist that it shares. I went into this book without reading the summary, harboring only my dislike for the the Lost Night and an appreciation for the cover. But from the first chapter, I knew what was going to happen. Kristen would turn out to be the true villain, manipulative and conniving and obsessive. It happened in the Lost Night, anyway, and it happened here.
Now, I don’t think predictability is a flaw. I actually like it more often than not. However, when it’s a story I didn’t like much at all the first time around, well, it was more than a little annoying.
From early on, I knew an issue that would come up in this book. It was almost inevitable when white women write books of this sort. I’m white myself, and learning intersectionality, learning to decenter myself and my experiences is still something I am working on, will always be working on. And that brings me to the issue with the feminism in this book: it forgets that white women often inflict the same fear that men inflict on them to men of color and Black men in particular.
While I listened to the audiobook and especially as I listened to a line that claimed men never felt the fear that women feel around men, I was reminded of a ContraPoints video, Men. She recounts a story where she stood in an elevator with a Black man and how he feared the chance that she might be feared. “There are ways that white women’s fear can be dangerous to Black men.” Wynn says.
We Were Never Here does not ever acknowledge that, acknowledge the ways that white women and our fear (note: i am not a woman but you know) are dangerous and harmful and often flat out malicious. It’s all about this fear, and never steps back to think about who is being forgotten.
Emily & Kristen Should Just Kiss
From the very start of the book, Emily and Kristen’s friendship parallels a romance. It’s sometimes implied and sometimes nearly explicit. I do not know Andrea Bartz. I don’t know what she wanted to do here but to me, it feels so entirely like a romance. Some of the lines made me think this book might actually be an exploration of comp het, and I was excited. It wasn’t.
Instead it’s about two friends, one of whom is manipulative and abusive and has been working to isolate and bind her best friend to her through murder. It’s also about Emily learning to trust men, to grow past the fear of men that Kristen instilled at her. By doing so, it undercuts that very fear that the book spent so long establishing and, in my opinion, dismissing and undermining it.
So uh, what was the point of it all then?