This reading group guide for Crazy Love You includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Unger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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Darkness has a way of creeping up when Ian is with Priss. Even when they were kids, playing in the old woods of their small town, he could feel it. Still, Priss was his best friend, his only friend. Ian’s time with Priss was his salvation from the bullies who called him “loser” and “fatboy” . . . and from his family’s deadly secrets. Now Ian has escaped his home, his family, and the tortured shell of his childhood. A talented and successful graphic novelist living in the most expensive neighborhood of Manhattan, Ian has put his past behind him . . . except for Priss. Priss is still trouble. The booze, the drugs, the sex—Ian is growing tired of late nights together trying to keep the past at bay. Especially now that he’s met sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love makes him want to change for the better. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, terrible things begin to happen . . . Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. On page 4 of Crazy Love You
, Ian says, “When the darkness calls, it’s a siren song.” This idea, the allure of the darker side of life, is one of the major themes of the novel. How does Ian’s perspective on this idea change throughout his life and throughout the course of the book? Is it an idea you can sympathize with? How?
2. Ian is a classic unreliable narrator. How does his unreliability influence the development of the plot in Crazy Love You
? At what point did you realize Ian might not always be telling the whole truth?
3. The comics that Ian writes—Fatboy and Priss—form a substantial part of the plot of Crazy Love You
. How does the author use Ian’s work as a tool to illustrate or hint at themes and plot points throughout the novel?
4. On page 10, Ian says of Priss, “The more I had of her in ink, the less I wanted or needed her in life.” How does this reflect Ian’s attitude toward life in general? Does the world of comics help Ian deal with real life? Or does it make it more difficult?
5. Why are comic books so appealing to Ian as a child, and why do you think he didn’t grow out of them, as so many kids do? Discuss your own relationship with comics (or lack thereof).
6. Priss has multiple incarnations as a character throughout the story. What are the boundaries between the different versions of her? Which is the “real” Priss? Is there one?
7. Throughout the story, the Whispers that Ian hears are an enormous influence on his life. What do you think the Whispers are? What do they symbolize in The Hollows? Have you ever experienced anything like the Whispers?
8. What was it in his life that made Ian so susceptible to Priss’s manipulation? Why did Priss, in turn, have such a great need for Ian? What are the things in our own lives that make us vulnerable to things that harm us?
9. Ian’s relationship with Megan and her family hinges on his difficulty with accepting the stability and normalcy of their life compared with his own. Do you share his doubts and misgivings about the closeness of Megan’s family, or do you think he’s just insecure? Why?
10. One of the most important themes of Crazy Love You
revolves around fate. Is it possible to change our circumstances, or are we bound to our fate? Can the people in our lives be changed for better or for worse? How does Ian’s judgment of this question evolve throughout the novel?
11. A prominent theme in Crazy Love You
is the power and influence of addiction. How is Ian both a typical and atypical addict? Does Ian’s relationship with Priss constitute an addiction? Why or why not? Do you think we can ever really be addicted
to another human being?
12. The difference between fiction and reality emerges as a major theme in Crazy Love You
. The more we learn about Ian’s life, the more the line between his art and his actual life starts to blur. What do you think of Ian’s negotiation between his own life and his art? Do you think all fiction has some reality in it?
13. In Eloise Montgomery’s words from page 282, the only two “primary motivators” are love and fear—everything else is merely secondary. Do you agree with her analysis in the context of Ian’s story? Why or why not?
14. The reader’s perspective on Ian and Priss’s relationship evolves dramatically over the course of the Crazy Love You
. Do you agree with the peace that Ian arrives at in regards to Priss, or do you think he’s delusional? Do you think Ian made the right choices at the end? Or is he still in Priss’s thrall? Enhance Your Book Club
1. In more ways than one, Priss plays the role of Ian’s muse. From the muses of classical Greek myth, to the real life muses of the Romantic poets, there are muses of some kind or another scattered across history: Research the history of muses in literature, and pick either a fictional or real muse to present to your group. How does Priss fit the role of a muse and how does she differ?
2. The world of comics is one that Ian holds close to his heart, and in modern culture he is not alone. Team up with one or more of your group members to make a comic of your own design—a superhero comic or something more personal. Your comic can be funny, serious, action-packed or meditative—whatever strikes your fancy. Draw an entire book, or simply one detailed panel. Share your work with your group.
3. The history of The Hollows plays a crucial role in Crazy Love You
. Although your town may not have as haunting a history as Ian’s, you probably have a historical society or museum in your local area. Plan a visit, do some research about your town’s past, and present your findings to your group.
4. Join the conversation! www.LisaUnger.com and www.facebook.com/authorlisaunger are great resources for more information on Lisa Unger’s novels and a way to meet other fans of Crazy Love You
. Check out the videos on LisaUnger.com with your group and share your favorite parts of Crazy Love You
with Lisa on Facebook. A Conversation with Lisa Unger Ian is such a compelling and convincing narrative voice. How did you develop his character? Does he bear a resemblance to anyone in your own life?
Usually I can pinpoint an exact moment when I started hearing a character’s voice. There’s generally a germ or a seed that gives me a little buzz of excitement and leads me to do some research. And then I start hearing a voice, or seeing a scene over and over. That’s when I sit down to start writing.
But I don’t know why I started hearing Ian. He was just in my head one day. I knew that he was a graphic novelist and that he had some major problems that he was keeping at bay with his various addictions—pills, work, weed. He was in a dark spiral and in a toxic relationship that was enabling his various issues. But that was all I knew. When I first started hearing him, he had an apocalyptic hangover. So that’s where we started our journey together, on the cold floor of his bathroom. Comic books and comic book culture are an obviously important thread in Crazy Love You. Is it a world you were already familiar with before starting the novel? How did you do your research, if not?
I was not familiar with this world—at all. In fact, I had to call my friend author Gregg Hurwitz (who writes comics as well as stellar thrillers) and say: “You know, my new character is a graphic novelist and I don’t know anything about this. Can you help me?”
He put me in touch with Jud Meyer from Blastoff Comics in North Hollywood. And Jud opened the door to this world for me. He shared his own experiences, sent me piles of books, and answered all my questions. I just dove into this very colorful and amazingly creative universe and loved every minute. Jud was a the perfect guide, as well as the sweetest, kindest person in the world. He was the best source a writer could have. Ian as a kid finds incredible solace in comic books, so much so that he dedicates his life to that world. When did you discover mysteries? When did you realize that you wanted to write your own?
I think most creative people find a home in their art before they find one in the real world. Books were certainly my first love, and the darker, the more thrilling, the more complex, the better. So I was young (inappropriately so) when I started reading mysteries, thriller and horror novels.
My family moved around a lot, so even when I was the outsider at a new school or a new neighborhood, I was at home with books. Pretty early I had that moment when I went from being a reader to being a writer, from being someone who disappeared into other people’s stories to one who wanted to create her own. Once I discovered that I could do that, I never stopped. I really relate to that part of Ian who prefers a fictional world to the often cruel and unforgiving real one. Like many of your other books, Crazy Love You takes place, at least partially, in the town of The Hollows, which has almost become a character in its own right. What are the unique challenges and satisfactions of developing a setting over the course of several books? Is there a real place that you feel is closest to The Hollows?
When I first visited The Hollows, I didn’t think very much of it. It seemed like it could just be Anytown, USA. I didn’t really know where it was, somewhere in the Tri-State area. I had this vision of a place that was part rural, part a kind of village, with a hint of dark energy. Subconsciously, I think the town of Sleepy Hollow was a bit of an inspiration. I like the name and the history, its connection to a literary ghost story. But I didn’t consciously think of any of that when I was writing. It was just a place with a strange name.
But once I visited The Hollows, I just kept going back there. And each time I went, The Hollows evolved, and I got to know it better. I learned something new about it every time, and yet kept revisiting the same spots. I started to see it as a place with a personality and an agenda. The Hollows wants something, and I’m not totally sure what it is.
The challenges of writing about a fictional place are the same as what’s satisfying about it. It’s totally my vision—streets, restaurants, homes, people, the woods, the river, the abandoned mine tunnels. There was nothing there until I put it there—which is both challenging and extremely cool. Making sure everything gels from book to book can be a little harrowing.
My brother swears that The Hollows is based on the town where we grew up called Long Valley, New Jersey. But, of course, it isn’t that, though I can see why he thinks so. And maybe there are some similarities. But it’s like all fictional places (and people). It is an amalgamation of my experiences and imaginings, part real but mostly real only in my fictional universe. The history of The Hollows is an important facet of the novel. Is small-town history something you’re particularly interested in? Are you familiar with the history of the place you live now?
I am interested in history, certainly. But mainly I am interested in personal history, the stories we tell ourselves about our past and how it effects our actions in the present. Most people aren’t living in the present; our memories of the past impact our perceptions of the present, and our hopes for the future. And that is true of places, too. History is just a story that we tell ourselves. Some of it is true. Some of it so influenced by the teller that it is a biased version of the truth, and so not true at all.
A town has a collective history that shapes its identity, as well as the identities of the people who live there. What does it mean to be a New Yorker, a Parisian, a Floridian (in my case), or a resident of The Hollows? We come to identify with our location, and nowhere is that more true than a small town, especially when you’ve lived there all your life. Your identity becomes indivisible from that place. That’s really what fascinates me about the The Hollows, its living history and how it impacts the people who live there. One of the most fun aspects of Crazy Love You is the unreliability of Ian’s narration. As an author, what is particularly intriguing about an unreliable narrator? Is it more or less difficult than a traditional narrator?
All narrators are unreliable to some extent. In fact, anyone telling you a story is unreliable. They can only tell events through the filter of their perception, which might be very different from another person’s perception. Of course, Ian is slightly more unreliable than most considering that he’s pill-addled, mentally unstable, and far prefers to live within the pages of his graphic novel than in the real world. But I follow character voice. And I was willing to go with Ian wherever he wanted to take me. And that’s true of even my more traditional narrators. They tell the story. I follow. So it wasn’t significantly different from other journeys, just a little crazier. The supernatural elements in Crazy Love You are part of what makes it unique and more complex or ambiguous than your more traditional horror fare. Have you always been interested in ghosts, psychics, and the like? What was it like to write in that mode? What is your own relationship with the supernatural?
I have a dark and curious imagination, so the supernatural has been a big source of fascination for me—not just spirits and ghosts, but psychic phenomenon, fortune tellers, tarot cards, anything the flirts with the other side. I have met people who were clearly gifted. And I’ve had some unexplainable experiences—enough so that I’m open to the possibilities. Since my fictional worlds are pretty dark, it didn’t seem like such a big leap to follow Ian down the rabbit hole, especially since it took me a long time to figure out what was really happening to him. I had
to follow him, just to figure out if he was crazy, addicted, or really experiencing something—beyond. The natural and supernatural exist side by side, a very thin veil between them. Crazy Love You
is not the first time, I’ve pushed the veil back, but I did go deeper than I have before. One of the most compelling parts about Ian’s character is his dedication to his work. What are the similarities (if any) between Ian’s perspective on his work and your own? What was it like to write from the perspective of someone so wrapped up in his own art, so different from your own?
I actually don’t think his art is very different from my own. He’s a storyteller, just like me. There’s a visual component to his art, but my fascination with my subjects is no less total. The major difference between Ian and me is that I am grounded in the real world in a way that he is not—and frankly doesn’t want to be. I have a family and a home and responsibilities that keep from disappearing completely onto the page. When the book begins, he doesn’t have any of that. He is young and single, wild, partying, troubled by a traumatic past. He is using drugs and his work to keep his demons at bay. He doesn’t have anything in the real world to keep him rooted until he meets Megan. And, of course, that’s when all the trouble begins—when he has to choose.
As a young and unhappy kid, Ian disappeared into the world of comic books—a brightly colored, exciting, easy-to-understand world where things were just better
. I think that a lot of creative people find a home in their art at a very young age. It was definitely true for me. First I disappeared into books, then into my own writing. The world doesn’t always embrace the sensitive and more creative among us, but the page is wide open, waiting for us to fill it with our art—whether that’s poetry, or fiction, or paints and pastels. I don’t think there’s an artist alive who doesn’t disappear into the world he creates and who often prefers it to the real one. I relate to him more than I don’t. Fate, or the perception of it, plays a big role in the lives of the characters in Crazy Love You. Ian in particular meditates frequently on the inevitable aspects of his life and wonders if it’s truly possible for people to change. Do you believe in fate? Do you think that people ever really change, or that it’s possible to change someone else?
I do believe it’s possible to change yourself and nearly impossible to change anyone else. Our lives are a complicated helix of fate and free will, nature and nurture, meaning that we don’t choose our genetics, or the things that happen to us, but that sometimes we can find the strength to take the wheel of our lives and start to navigate the terrain before us. When we marshal our resources, we have more power than we think we do over our circumstances. All through Crazy Love You
I was rooting for Ian, hoping that something would motivate him to pull out of his downward spiral. But I also knew that the choice was his and his alone. We can’t save anyone from his own dark appetites and desires. The choice to change is a deeply personal one. Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on next? Are you planning more books that take place in The Hollows?
I never talk about my next project, because it drains all the energy. But I will say I’m not done with The Hollows. Or, rather, it’s not done with me!