Uneasy spirits suffer and rage in complex psycho-thriller

Crazy Love You, by Lisa Unger. Touchstone. 352 pages. Hardcover $25.99. Ian Paine writes graphic novels about himself. His stand-in is named Fatboy, a name Ian had to own in the cruel public school days of his youth. Unattractive, friendless, and often repressing a desperate rage, both Ian and Fatboy relate in complex ways to a character named Priss. Ian’s relationship to Priss reveals the kinship of two terms: addiction and haunting. The Hollows, Ian’s upstate New York home town, is haunting central. Crazy-Love-You-Hardcover It is in The Hollows, as well, where Priss is most alive. I say “most alive” because her quasi-reality is one of the book’s puzzles and attractions. When Ian was a child, his only friend was Priss. He was bullied or ignored by everyone else. But she wasn’t a schoolmate. She did not attend school. No one witnessed them together. Was she really there, or only in Ian’s head? Was Priss, is Priss, the imaginary friend writ large? Since Ian is the first person narrator, credible within limits, Priss’s reality for him becomes – much of the time – her reality for the reader. However, those in Ian’s world who deny her reality are credible as well. The Priss in Ian’s Fatboy books is a seductive femme fatale. In his memory or present vision, she is not only his age – as if they had grown up together – but any one of the ages she might be – even the young girl he first met. Priss seems to be a time-traveling wraith, imprisoned by rage. Both Ian and Priss have suffered parallel family disasters in their lives, leading the reader to suspect that Priss is a projection. Like her Ian/Fatboy is never very distant from a rage that leaps out at times and controls his behavior. Though he has no memory of his destructive outbreaks, their consequences are unmistakable. Who controls whom?

Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger

Ian, now a success, no longer ugly and overweight, manages his anxieties with drugs. He uses them to smooth things out. At times, he frees himself, but dependency returns. Narcotics allow him to do his creative work. Priss is another kind of addiction. Can addictions ever be good for you? Necessary? Or only life-threatening. Good news comes into Ian’s life in the person of beautiful, generous Megan. She makes her version of normality shine brightly. Feeling his unworthiness, Ian is amazed at how quickly their relationship progresses. He can’t help but reveal his many faults, but Megan finds ways of accepting his excuses – up to a point. Her parents can’t stand him, but there’s nothing new about that plot point. She’s an adult. She seems sure of herself. They grin falsely and bear it. Slowly and with many setbacks, with Priss interfering in the most threatening ways, Ian builds the better self that will be worthy of Megan. It frightens him, however, that she wishes for them to live in The Hollows. So much that Ian has striven to escape is rooted there: childhood trauma, rejection, and Priss. How can this work? I won’t tell you. . . . To read the full review, as it appears in the February 18, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 19 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte edtions, click here Florida Weekly – Crazy Love You 1 and here Florida Weekly – Crazy Love You 2.

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