In the Blood
Lisa Unger, 2014
Simon & Schuster
Someone knows Lana's secret—and he's dying to tell.
Lana Granger lives a life of lies. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that the truth is like a cloudy nightmare she can’t quite recall. About to graduate from college and with her trust fund almost tapped out, she takes a job babysitting a troubled boy named Luke. Expelled from schools all over the country, the manipulative young Luke is accustomed to controlling the people in his life. But, in Lana, he may have met his match. Or has Lana met hers?
When Lana’s closest friend, Beck, mysteriously disappears, Lana resumes her lying ways—to friends, to the police, to herself. The police have a lot of questions for Lana when the story about her whereabouts the night Beck disappeared doesn’t jibe with eyewitness accounts. Lana will do anything to hide the truth, but it might not be enough to keep her ominous secrets buried: someone else knows about Lana’s lies. And he’s dying to tell.
Lisa Unger’s writing has been hailed as "sensational" (Publishers Weekly) and "sophisticated" (New York Daily News), with "gripping narrative and evocative, muscular prose" (Associated Press). Masterfully suspenseful, finely crafted, and written with a no-holds-barred raw power, In the Blood is Unger at her best. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—April 26, 1970
• Where—New Haven, Connecticut, USA
• Raised—The Netherlands, UK, and New Jersey, USA
• Education—New School for Social Research
• Currently—lives in Florida
Lisa Unger is an award winning New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author. Her novels have been published in over 26 countries around the world.
She was born in New Haven, Connecticut (1970) but grew up in the Netherlands, England and New Jersey. A graduate of the New School for Social Research, Lisa spent many years living and working in New York City. She then left a career in publicity to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time author. She now lives in Florida with her husband and daughter.
Her writing has been hailed as "masterful" (St. Petersburg Times), "sensational" (Publishers Weekly) and "sophisticated" (New York Daily News) with "gripping narrative and evocative, muscular prose" (Associated Press).
Her own words:
I have always most naturally expressed myself through writing and I have always dwelled in the land of my imagination more comfortably than in reality. There’s a jolt I get from a good story that I’m not sure can be duplicated in the real world. Perhaps this condition came about because of all the traveling my family did when I was younger. I was born in Connecticut but we moved often. By the time my family settled for once and all in New Jersey, I had already lived in Holland and in England (not to mention Brooklyn and other brief New Jersey stays) for most of my childhood. I don’t recall ever minding moving about; even then I had a sense that it was cool and unusual. But I think it was one of many things that kept me feeling separate from the things and people around me, this sense of myself as transient and on the outside, looking in. I don’t recall ever exactly fitting in anywhere. Writers are first and foremost observers … and one can’t truly observe unless she stands apart.
For a long time, I didn’t really believe that it was possible to make a living as a writer … mainly because that’s what people always told me. So, I made it a hobby. All through high school, I won awards and eventually, a partial scholarship because of my writing. In college, I was advised by teachers to pursue my talent, to get an agent, to really go for it. But there was a little voice that told me (quietly but insistently) that it wasn’t possible. I didn’t see it as a viable career option as I graduated from the New School for Social Research (I transferred there from NYU for smaller, more dynamic classes). I needed a “real job.” A real job delivers a regular pay check, right? So I entered a profession that brought me as close to my dream as possible … and paid, if not well, then at least every two weeks. I went into publishing.
When I left for Florida, I think I was at a critical level of burnout. I think that as a New Yorker, especially after a number of years, one starts to lose sight of how truly special, how textured and unique it is. The day-to-day can be brutal: the odors, the noise, the homeless, the trains, the expense. Once I had some distance though, New York City started to leak into my work and I found myself rediscovering many of the things I had always treasured about it. It came very naturally as the setting for Beautiful Lies. It is the place I know best. I know it as one can only know a place she has loved desperately and hated passionately and then come to miss terribly once she has left it behind.
But it is true that we can’t go home again. I live in Florida now with my wonderful husband, and I’m a full-time writer. There’s a lot of beauty and texture and darkness to be mined in this strange place, as well. I’m sure I’d miss it as much in different ways if I returned to New York. I guess that’s my thing … no matter where I am I wonder if I belong somewhere else. I’m always outside, observing. It’s only when I’m writing that I know I’m truly home. (Author bio from the author's website.)
[A] brisk, crafty and fascinating psychological thriller.... Offers plenty of good, scary fun — scenes that will make readers jump... [and] a reveal that will surely elicit a satisfied gasp from the reader.... In the Blood is a complex mosaic as well, one that’s tricky, arresting and meaningful.
Always scary…Unger neatly distorts our perceptions, so there’s no telling what is what. Well done.
New York Daily News
In The Blood may be [Unger's] best one yet.... Keeps the shocks and twists coming at a breakneck pace.
Tampa Bay Tribune
A riveting chess match of twists will keep you guessing—and keep you up at night.
Nothing is what it seems as Unger pulls off some beautiful surprises in this intriguing thriller.... Masterfully told.
A fantastic novel full of suspense and intrigue. Massively recommended.
The Sun (UK)
Unger is a compelling storyteller whose tales rest on human frailty.... She makes it impossible to stop reading.
(Starred review.) Bestseller Unger returns to the Hollows, the secluded upstate New York town that served as the setting for Fragile and Darkness, My Old Friend, for this gripping novel of psychological suspense.... [A] tense, surprise-laden plot.
This fast-moving book is a rollercoaster thrill ride, withholding crucial facts and then pounding you with them as the chapters wind down. It’s a quick, adrenaline-filled read with a slam-bang climax. Unger’s skill with words, combined with a pace that never lets up, is guaranteed to keep the pages turning long past the midnight hour.
We're asked to believe that one dangerously unstable child can grow up and learn to love with the help of therapy and lots of meds, while another with virtually identical issues will always be a monster. Few readers will dwell on this inconsistency as they savor the pleasure of being guided by Unger's sure hand along a deliciously twisted narrative path. Another scary winner from an accomplished pro.
1. In The Blood opens with an excerpt "The Tiger," a poem by the British poet William Blake. Why do you think the author chose this poem to open the story? What connections do you see between the subject matter of the poem and that of the novel?
2. One of the primary themes of In The Blood is the debate of "nature vs. nurture" and the relative importance of upbringing and genetics in determining individuals' personality. Why does this debate have such significance for the characters in the novel? What do you think the author’s point of view is in this debate? What do you think is more important in determining someone’s personality—their genes or their upbringing?
3. On page 25, we discover that the motto of Lana’s college is "Come with a purpose and find your path." What does this mean for Lana? What significance does the motto have for Lana’s life in general?
4. Lana’s urge to help others springs largely from her mother’s request that she use her intelligence and other gifts to help people. Why do you think this is so important to Lana? What does her mother’s request mean to her? What are some other reasons Lana might be motivated to help others?
5. One of the powerful themes of In The Blood is the thin line between "normal" and "abnormal." What do you think separates normal from abnormal in terms of psychology? Is this the difference between Lana and Luke? Why is it so difficult to diagnose someone who is “abnormal”?
6. Lana’s character is markedly ambiguous, androgynous, and evolves constantly throughout the book—both in her own person and in our understanding of her. How did your perception of Lana change throughout the novel? Did you like her as a person? How did your trust in her account of things, her reliability as a narrator, shift as certain facts were revealed?
7. Early in Lana’s job as Luke’s babysitter, she says, "In the light, he looked exactly what he was—a little boy, troubled maybe but just a kid. I felt an unwanted tug of empathy (p. 45)." Why doesn’t Lana want to empathize with Luke? How does this desire change throughout the course of the novel? Do you think Lana’s later empathy towards Luke is due to his manipulations, or is it something else?
8. Lana believes that the idea of the "bad seed" is a pervasive “acceptable bigotry (p.55)” in our society. Do you agree with her about this? How are people that are perceived to be “bad seeds” judged, or misjudged?
9. The diary that is woven throughout the story of Lana spends much of its time meditating on the stresses that having a child puts on a relationship. As the diary’s author says, "Maybe parenthood is a crucible; the intensity of its environment breaks you down to your most essential elements as a couple (p.129)." What do you think of this assessment? How does a so-called “problem child” complicate the situation?
10. Lana is immensely competitive with Luke, something he uses to his great advantage. Why do you think Lana is so easily sucked into competing with a young boy? Why is she compelled to keep participating in his games when she knows the dangers?
11. Lana has a unique perspective on forgiveness. As she puts it, "In real life, that doesn’t happen. People don’t forgive things like that. They don’t find peace. It’s pure bullshit. When something unspeakable happens, or when you do something unspeakable, it changes you. It takes you apart and reassembles you (p.122)." Do you agree with this perspective? Are some things unforgivable? Is forgiveness something you do for yourself, or for the person being forgiven?
12. On pages 142-143, Lana meditates on why people are so obsessed with violent, horrible crimes. She says, "People love a mystery, a tragedy, a shooting, a disappearance, a gruesome murder." Why do you think this is? Do you think Lana is right to condemn people’s interest in these kinds of crimes? What does Lana’s perspective as an insider tell you about this kind of interest or obsession that you may not have known, or known as well, before reading In The Blood?
13. Early in the novel, Lana says, "We count so much on politeness, those of us who are hiding things. We count on people not staring too long, or asking too many questions (p. 26)." Do you think this shows a downside to politeness? Are we are too polite, as a society? How does Lana’s urge to keep her secrets complicate the lives of other people in her life?
14. In The Blood poses a lot of complicated questions about the treatment of mental illness, and the possibility of "redeeming" sociopaths and genuine psychopaths. What do you think the right course of action is with these kinds of individuals? Using Luke as an example, what do you think was the right thing to do with him at the end of the book? Do you think Lana does the right thing in her actions towards Luke?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)
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