In the Blood (Unger) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
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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