Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Die For You" by Lisa Unger

Isabel Raines believes she has a marriage that is pretty close to perfect. Sure, there have been rough patches along the way, including a miscarriage and infidelity, but all in all things are pretty rosy. Until Marcus Raines simply doesn't return home. Until his office is stormed by a fake FBI team who tear the place up, conk Isabel over the head and take off. Until she discovers that she never really knew her husband at all - he has cleared out their bank accounts and is seemingly up to his head in all sorts of nefarious business. Seemingly driven more by ego than common sense, Isabel shifts heaven and earth to find out WHY this has happened to HER? Why why why? Oh yeah, and one of the cops investigating Marcus is having marriage woes. And Isabel's sister Linda is having an affair with an art critic. And both Isabel and Linda remain haunted by the suicide of their father when they were children.

There's an okay if conventional and unoriginal thriller buried here somewhere amongst the internal musings frequented upon by Isabel and Linda regarding the suicide of their father. Sure, it all sounds psychologically insightful and perhaps provides a reason why as adults they're such absolute numbskulls, but it really does get to be a bit much. If Unger wants to explore the damage done to the psyche when a child loses a parent through an act such as suicide, why is she doing it within the context of a thriller in which a woman eventually globetrots to Prague to track down her treacherous husband? If she wants to explore what drives a successful, happy wife and mother to embark on a sexual extra-marital affair, why is she doing it in a book about that woman's sister embarking on a quest for truth and justice? Linda's affair has nothing to do with Isabel's betrayal at the hands of her husband nor her search for answers. All it really does it take up space and paint her as a selfish whore repeatedly running the risk of needlessly destroying her family.

The fact is, Unger's character development is extremely well-crafted and believable. The characters and their actions make sense in regards to what they have been through. Unfortunately, their actions are constantly bone-headed and stupid. Isabel may be a well-developed character, but I didn't particularly like her. Nothing else really mattered to her except finding out WHY she was betrayed. Why her? How dare Marcus?!? She seems to believe she's far more well-equipped to find answers than the police or anybody else and frequently puts herself into near-suicidal situations, while also bringing danger and suspicion to her otherwise innocent extended family. She's the most egotistical, whining, moronic douche to be portrayed by the author as some sort of strong, moral heroine. Actually, I seem to be saying that a lot about female protagonists, and it makes me sound bad, but it that hard to create a female character with a strong, steady head on her shoulders who isn't prone to endless introspection, ridiculous choices and self-entitled whining? Just asking.

The other annoying trait is having Isabel be an author. We get lots of musings about what the author does, what they see, what they capture, their role, ad nauseum. It makes the author seem highly self-aware and displays an off-putting sense of self-importance. Lisa, honey, you're writing a mass-market paperback about a woman chasing her husband across the world to Prague to find out why he betrayed you and cleared out your bank accounts. If you want to write literature, drop the ridiculous globe-trotting and the conspiracies and sign up with a smaller publishing company and produce books with poetic, meaningful titles that people in turtleneck sweaters read while drinking some hard-to-pronounce latte at a bohemian coffee shop. "Die For You" is one-third standard betrayed-woman yarn, and two thirds psychological and emotional turmoil. Decide for yourself which interests you more.

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