This reading group guide for The Red Hunter 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.Introduction
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After the traumatic death of her parents, Zoey has outwardly pulled her life back together with the help of her beloved Uncle Paul. But her quiet life in Manhattan belies a dark truth: she is the “red hunter,” a trained vigilante, and she has sworn justice against those who left her for dead . . . by any means necessary.
Similarly, Claudia has put an outward mask of placid happiness over the trauma of her sexual assault, and despite separating from her husband, she has rebuilt her life into an enviable career as a blogger. Her latest project is restoring a house upstate with her teenaged daughter, Raven, who isn’t nearly as satisfied by her mother’s platitudes about recovery and optimism.
But the house Claudia hopes to revitalize holds a dark and violent mystery that will bring the three women together for a reckoning decades in the making. Bestselling author Lisa Unger’s latest novel is filled with all of the twists, turns, and heart-stoppingly realistic thrills her many fans are hungry for.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. What is the effect of the author’s choice to begin the novel with the vivid scene of Didion’s murder? What were your first impressions of Zoey, and how did your understanding of her change from this initial portrait?
2. Ask the same question of Claudia: What is the effect of having the story of her rape appear so early in the book? What kind of person does it establish her as, and how did your impressions of her change by the novel’s final scenes?
3. Why does Raven decide to track down Andrew even before submitting her paternity test? What does she hope to find from him that a genetic test won’t reveal?
4. Review the end of Chapter 17, just after Zoey’s conversation with Boz. What power is there in the notion of revenge, even if it’s carried out against someone who wasn’t the perpetrator of a crime? How does this question fuel Zoey’s red hunter persona?
5. Troy wonders of Raven: “Why do you think where you came from has anything to do with where you belong?” What do you think: How closely is your past connected to your sense of home, or “rightness”? Discuss with your book club.
6. Examine the role of fathers and fatherhood in the novel as compared to maternal figures by comparing Zoey and Raven’s relationships to their parents, including characters like Paul, Mike, Ellie, and Melvin Cutter.
7. In many ways, Claudia is marked by her strength: She cheerfully refuses to let her assault define her life and refuses to slide into a “dark, slick-walled abyss.” Yet, in some ways, her refusal to despair also hinders her. How?
8. Both Josh and Zoey are implicated as murderers early in the book, and are complex characters who are neither fully good or fully bad. What effect did their moral ambiguity have on your relationship to them as characters? Was it easier for you to like and relate to one more than the other, and why?
9. Thinker. Watcher. Hunter. Which of Zoey’s personas affords her the most power, and why?
10. The novel ends with Zoey having to compromise her search for answers as she realizes that the secrets that undergird her life will likely never be fully unraveled. Discuss the effect of this ending—do you find it realistic? Satisfying? “Happy”?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Revisit Claudia’s theory that “if you reverse engineer any major disaster—oil spill, or train derailment, or airplane crash—there are usually seven things that had to go wrong in order for them to occur.” Test this theory in a less morbid way: What were the seven near-misses, coincidences, or chance happenings that brought each of you to this book club? Chart them on your own, and then take turns sharing with the rest of the group.
2. Though the action of the book takes place over the course of Claudia’s renovation of the old house, we don’t get many details about her vision for the place. Using design blogs (like the one she runs!), decor magazines, and online resources like Pinterest, imagine what the final product might look like. You might divide design elements among your group members, or have each person bring a few images that show their vision of Claudia’s space and style.
3. Just as Zoey names aspects of her personality the Thinker, the Watcher, and the Hunter, name three main facets of your identity. Come up with a sentence or two to introduce each, and share with your book club.A Conversation with Lisa UngerAfter a career spent writing bestselling thrillers, what new ground did The Red Hunter allow you to cover? Why this story now?
A friend of mine, and a very successful writer, sent me an email the other day asking: Why does it always feel like the first time? I know exactly what he meant. Each story has a special kind of energy, is something different than what came before it. Every time a writer sit down to write, she's a different person — changed by her experiences, observations, new ideas.
I hope it never stops feeling like the first time. I can see now looking back, all of my novels have been intimately connected to questions that I have about people, or myself or the world, or issues with which I was grappling at the time. I’ve been dwelling in my fictional town, The Hollows, for a while. But the voice of Zoey Drake, which is the driving force of the narrative, was very clear and present. Her story was not connected to the other stories that have been kicking around my subconscious. This was the story I needed to tell, and now was the time to tell it. Do you have a favorite character in the novel? Who is it, and why are you so drawn to them?
Of course it’s impossible to ever choose a favorite character! Each one is unique and holds a special place in my heart. I love Zoey’s fire, her fighting spirit. I admire and am also alarmed by her willingness to walk into darkness to do what she thinks is “right.” I am moved by Claudia’s dogged determination to look toward the light, even from a place of deepest despair. Her willingness to take on big, nearly impossible tasks, with self-confidence and verve is inspirational—even when things crumble around her. And I am intrigued by Raven’s struggle with her identity, worried by the risks she’s willing to take to find out where she truly belongs. Through the writing of The Red Hunter
each of these very different characters continually surprised me—all of them deeper, more daring, and ultimately braver that I, at first, imagined them to be.You write Zoey’s kung fu–inflected fight scenes with so much accuracy. Why did you decide to have her train in this particular fighting style? What does it reveal about her character?
I studied kung fu for eight years, giving it up when I became pregnant with my daughter. When I first found kung fu, I was in a vulnerable place in my life. I was young, unsure of myself, wasn’t quite certain who I was or who I wanted to be. When I started to train in the martial arts, I was introduced to myself in a way I never had been before. I found a power within that I never knew was there, accomplished things that I hadn’t imagined possible. kung fu was a healing for me, a kind of rebirth. I was interested in exploring that through Zoey. Her journey from kitten to dragon, from victim to fighter is something that resonates with me.
Just before the writing of The Red Hunter
, I took up kickboxing. And some of that fighting energy returned to my life. It, too, was part of the inspiration for the book. In The Red Hunter, you’re interested in the lines between victims and perpetrators. What do you hope to reveal to readers about the way we think about good, bad, and the spaces in between?
It always seems to me that the lines between right and wrong, good and evil, perpetrator and victim are slim indeed. None of us is as far apart from each other as we think—or maybe even wish we were. This is a theme that runs through most of my novels.
I had an editor lament once that there wasn’t a true villain in my novel. But I don’t believe that there are true villains in life. Most perpetrators were victims once. Most evil-doers passionately believe in their cause, consider themselves to be righteous. My core belief about human nature is that we are each trying to be happy. It’s just that some of us have a very sick and twisted idea about how to accomplish that. People are an impossibly complicated helix of nature and nurture, of good choices and bad, action and reaction. We make mistakes, and life spins out of our control. Some of us make bad choices most of the time; some of us make good choices most of the time. Most people make good and bad choices depending on the moment, on circumstances. What makes us who we are is a topic of continuing fascination for me. I don’t know if I’ve revealed anything about people; mainly I’m just exploring.What was your favorite thing to research for this book?
The germ for this book was Zoey’s voice, the voice of a victim turned into a fighter. And her voice I think came from my questions about victimhood. How do people who’ve experienced extreme violence, who’ve been the victim of the most horrific possible circumstance come back to life?
The book Far from the Tree
by Andrew Solomon was a valuable source of information in understanding the experience of children of rape. I found the insights in this ambitious, brilliantly written book to be illuminating on questions of family and identity.
I leaned on my own home renovation experience to detail Claudia’s struggle (though I wasn’t brave enough to attempt it myself and I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a “favorite” research experience).
If I had to choose a favorite, it would be revisiting my old kung fu training. That period was a special time and place in my life. I loved kung fu and what it taught me about myself, about strength, about how the ability to fight means you often don’t have to. I still think about my school, and the tremendous sense of peace I found there. I stopped studying, but the things I learned there I carry with me.What message does this novel have for survivors of traumatic violence, like Zoey and Claudia?
I wouldn’t presume to send a message to survivors of traumatic violence. Most of my novels revolve around a question I have about human nature. And in this book, one of the central questions is: How do we survive the worst day? The characters in this book all have very different answers to that question, approach their moving on in myriad ways. I’ll leave it to the reader to draw conclusions about which way worked better. I suppose the central question in the book is: What is the difference between justice and revenge? Maybe in the asking of that question, there’s a message. But the answer will be different for everyone.Your books are thrillers, but they also have strong aspects of psychological suspense. What do you see as the difference between the two genres? What draws you to thrillers as a writer?
Hmm . . . that brings up another interesting question. What is the difference between a thriller and psychological suspense? If you can find the person to tell me, have him give me a call!
When writers sit down to write, few of us are thinking about genre. We have voices and stories in our heads; we get it all onto the page to the best of our ability. And then if we’re very fortunate, our publishers bring those stories out into the world. It’s at that point that publishers and booksellers decide on genre, where your book fits on the shelf. Readers and reviewers will have their opinions, too, about what kind of book you’ve written. For me, it’s all about following those voices, hearing the stories they tell, exploring human nature, and the psyche. Usually these stories are dark, because it’s the dark recesses of the mind that interest me most. As for whether my books are thrillers or stories of psychological suspense—I hope they’re both.Tell readers about your writing routine. Do you have any particular routines, rituals, or places that you regularly return to?
My golden writing hours are 5 AM to noon. That’s when my creativity is at its highest vibration. Of course, with a school-age daughter, I don’t always get those hours. So her school day is mainly my work day. When I first got serious about my writing, I was working a full-time job. So I got very good about writing while dealing with other high-level goals and demands. I am lucky in that I can write anywhere, anytime, even with distractions. So there’s no ritual or places where I have to be. Needs like that tend to become excuses for why you can’t write. So I try to get those morning hours, and if I don’t, I make the time elsewhere. Your writing can be incredibly cinematic. Who can you see playing this book’s main characters in a film version of The Red Hunter?
Impossible to answer! My characters are so clear and vivid in my mind’s eye. It would be like asking me who would play my husband in a movie of our life. (Okay. Bradley Cooper.) In an absolute fantasy, I could see Ellen Page inhabiting Zoey; she has that sweet exterior that conceals the steel within. With her earnestness and strength, Reese Witherspoon would be a compelling Claudia. But those are just imaginings after being asked. All the characters in the novel are as vivid and real as anyone I might meet in life, so it’s hard to imagine them as anyone else. What are your plans for your next novel?
I am at work on my next novel now. But I can never talk about it until it’s complete; that just drains all the energy. So stay tuned, follow me on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for my newsletter at www.lisaunger.com
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