I am a scaredy-cat. I can’t get past the opening credits of “American Horror Story,” the poster for “The Silence of the Lambs” gave me nightmares for months, and I still can’t look at a spider without wanting to cry. So maybe reading Lisa Unger’s Crazy Love You wasn’t the best idea for me. But I am so glad I did, and I want everyone else to experience this horrifying and wonderful book, too.
Ian uses his career as a graphic novelist as a way to purge many of his insecurities and doubts, turning the horrors of his childhood into a vengeful journey of redemption in his bestselling graphic novel series, Fatboy and Priss. You know that Fatboy is an exaggerated version of Ian within the graphic novels, but when you meet the real Priss, Ian’s best friend from childhood and a cruel, abusive addict, you wonder if maybe there’s more truth to Fatboy’s character than you think.
Ian knows he will always be Fatboy: the weak, pathetic kid who can’t stand up for himself; whose mother tried to kill him and his sister while suffering from postpartum depression. And he knows he will always be at the beck and call of Priss, the leading role model in his life who has driven his vices, successes, and failures.
But all of that changes when he meets Megan, an aspiring writer and full-time nanny. Megan is everything Priss is not. She’s kind, loving, understanding, and helps Ian clean up his life bit by bit. Ian and Megan fall in love, and Priss is . . . well . . . pissed.
Priss plans her revenge, and by the end you feel like you are Megan, trying hard to escape the situation at hand, and desperately working out what’s happening as the action whips by faster than you can comprehend. Even as Ian attempts to get rid of Priss—in both Fatboy and Priss and in real life—you know that Priss is the one pulling all the strings, and she’ll always surprise you with her next move.
Lisa Unger’s talent lies in how she weaves a story. Unger floats the action between the real world and Ian’s graphic novel world, and she blurs the lines between the two in a masterful way. Her pacing is perfect, too—in the beginning, the ride is like a merry-go-round. She eases you into her world with stories and songs, and each character introduces themselves with a gracious bow. But, like with any true horror story, this merry-go-round turns dark, and we’re already in the throes of the story by the time we want to get off.
Soon you’re seeing doubles of Priss, Ian, and Megan everywhere. The more you learn about Ian, the more convinced you are that he’s a little deranged, but you sympathize with him, letting his insanity infuse your being just a tiny bit. You feel both relief and sadness when you finish this book, and I for one understood the title better than I ever thought I could. To love is pure, but to crazy love is exciting.
Leora Bernstein is a bibliophile and former Off the Shelf staff writer.