Just how well do we really know those people we are meant to love and trust?
Lisa Unger critically examines love, obsession and fidelity in Under My Skin, her most recent novel. Set in a brutal and edgy New York landscape, photographer Poppy Lang’s husband Jack is murdered while jogging in Manhattan’s Riverside Park on a cold morning. The couple had run a successful photography consulting business together and were deeply in love.
With no known motive or assailant, Poppy has a breakdown and disappears into what seems like a black hole for a period of time. She has no memory of that time, only glimpses and images which torment her with their lack of substance. Nightmares and blackouts become part of her daily routine.
With the support of her childhood friend Layla and her wealthy banker husband Mac, Poppy struggles in a self-medicated pill-induced haze to make sense of what happened to her husband and to the promise of the life they had together. Poppy had wanted children, and she feels robbed.
Lisa Unger writes Poppy in various stages of her grief as she goes on a harrowing and often dangerous quest to find out what really happened to her husband. However, she is going into exhaustion fuelled dream or fugue states and her grip on reality is precarious. She is convinced she is being followed by a hooded man, although the policeman assigned to the case Detective Grayson believes she is delusional.
Under my Skin is written in the past and the present as Poppy struggles to find a clarity of purpose she can live with. She reaches out to a man who could possibly be a danger, but there is something about him which she believes she can trust. Her constant revisiting of the period of time, while she was missing, is more like a nightmare than a reality. With constant visions of her dead husband and a mystery woman, she starts to question just how well she knew her husband, and just how well does she know herself.
Lisa Unger has successfully written a gripping thriller with plenty to get under the reader’s skin. How well do we know those we love? Should we persist in discovering their past or revealing their secrets? When everything is glossy and polished on the outside, does that mean there is no rottenness at the centre of it all?
These questions and more are threaded throughout this book. It is also a close insight into how taking too much medication and mixing it with alcohol can take someone into a place where their grip on reality is questionable. Grief becomes a catalyst for despair.
Under my Skin is a gripping read. I love a good psychological thriller and this one ticks all of the boxes for me. It is tightly written with a fast-paced plot which ekes just enough enlightenment at times to keep you turning the page.
Under my Skin, by Lisa Unger, is available from the publishes HQ Fiction, in printed or digital editions.