Crazy Love You is the first time I’ve read anything by Lisa Unger, and is a hard book for me to review. This is mainly because the greatest pro of the novel is it’s story, but it’s greatest con is sometimes how it’s delivered. To truly explain my problems with this book, I’d have to fully spoil the story and thus negate the best thing about it for you. So, I’m going to take a little liberty here and spoil something that happens very early on. It is kind of a big deal but it happens within the first fifty pages and can very easily be surmised even before that. If you want to go into this book completely unspoiled just know that I would indeed recommend it, and I would definitely read aanother book by Lisa Unger.
Still here? So Crazy Love You follows Ian Paine, a drug-addled graphic novel creator in Manhattan. He has a destructive friend called Priss, who seems to govern his vices with her mere presence. He writes, illustrates and produces a graphic novel series called Fatboy and Priss, which is (pretty much) an autobiographical account of his and Priss’ lives, which is incredibly successful and weirdly seems to be read by everyone in the world. But here’s the kicker, the Priss of the novel doesn’t actually exist outside of Fatboy’s head. And similarly it seems the Priss outside of the panels doesn’t exist either. She turns up to entice Ian into temptation, and carry out sinister acts that she thinks will please him.
The action starts as Ian meets a pretty young woman named Megan, and after a few bumbling mis-steps they hit it off. Unfortunately, as things gets more serious with Megan, Priss is not pleased and starts to get angry. And when Priss is angry, all hell breaks loose.
It’s a cool set up that makes for a tense and exciting psychological thriller. The fact that Priss isn’t technically real was the spoilery bit, although it’s quite easy to get straight away. However, I take a slight issue with this not being revealed upfront. It happens early enough to not be a technical ‘spoiler’ but late enough to already trick someone into reading it if they wanted something more on this spiritual plain. It just feels weird for this to be such an early twist and not be on the back of the cover. It’s almost as if someone from marketing decided to withhold it for sales or something. Not really a criticism on Unger’s part but more how the book first presents itself.
I don’t really want to get further into the story because I really enjoyed it. I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next and never felt fatigued, as the book keeps a relatively fast pace. Things quickly go south for Ian as Priss starts to wreak havoc on his life, and the poor guy is driven to his psychological limit. It’s damn good stuff and while the ending put too big of a bow on it, and a few threads took the easy way out, I was mostly satisfied by the time I put the book down.
There are a few issues with how the story is told although they didn’t impact too much on my enjoyment of the narrative as a whole. First off I don’t really see Ian as a boozy drug addict. We only really get one scene where he’s suffering the after effects of a binge, and he misses a few appointments because of too much happy juice but it doesn’t seem to be a fundamental issue. Yes, when he has too much, he’s a bit of a bastard, but who isn’t. He almost seems more of a control freak than an addict. Although obviously drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs, kids. It’s not at the forefront of Ian’s life, as I would imagine it would be with a drug addict. And yeah, that might get a little tedious if he’s always going from hit to hit, but a little more wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Secondly, there’s a pseudo-framing device where we go all italics as we read what is happening in Ian’s graphic novel Fatboy and Priss. This is especially weird because there’s obviously not a graphic novel in the book so we just read the narrative like it’s part of the story. But how is it just written there? Is it like Ian’s notes about what he’s writing, or is some unnamed narrator explaining to us what is happening in the panels? I don’t – I don’t get it. It bothered me. Maybe that’s just me though.
Also, these ITALICS!! sections are really tonally weird. They mirror real life as Ian is replicating actual events in the graphic novel – so much so I’m surprised he hasn’t got sued…a lot. For example Fatboy meets a girl called Molly, who is the fictional version of Megan. The main issue is that these segments take on two main uses, and neither is particularly great. Sometimes, we see events we’ve already seen fictionalised and sometimes (and worse) the fictional world is used to ‘tell’ not ‘show’. For example, the early revelation that Priss is imaginary is directly told to us through this framing device. I don’t think these bits were really needed at all, and only really served to remind me that ‘hey Ian’s writing a graphic novel’. Also italics. I hate chunks of italics. That’s not what italics are for.
Despite all this, Crazy Love You was a crazy journey worth taking. I really felt attached to Ian and Priss, and while I sometimes felt one step ahead of the revelations, I felt content when they finally came. Unger’s writing was always incredibly engaging and a joy to read. I look forward to reading some more of her novels.
Despite a few mis-steps Crazy Love You proves to be an enthralling and compelling story of the dark side of love. The story takes some sharp turns but if you keep an open mind and hold on tight enough, you’ll leave satisfied enough to want to go on again.
CRAZY LOVE YOU by LISA UNGER