Jennifer Crusie is one of my favorite authors in any genre. This past weekend, I reread Crazy for You, a short but by no means slight novel published in 1999.
I discovered, in my paper copy, that I’d apparently first read this book back in June of 2001–on a trip near the beginning of a relationship that ended up not being a particularly healthy one for me but which did result in me living on the East Coast, much closer to friends and family, so. It’s interesting to think about reading this book for the first time during that part of my life in part because there is a profoundly unhealthy relationship at the start of it–and the ending of that relationship percolates through the rest of the book.
To be blunt: this is a book about stalking. There is a stalker in it. There are sections that take place from the stalker’s point of view and they are creepy as hell to read, especially when he starts to escalate his incursions into the heroine’s life. So if that’s something to take into consideration with this book.
But let’s back up and talk about what else is going on.
Quinn is a 35 year old art teacher in the small town where she grew up. She appears to have a storybook life: she’s dating the baseball coach, she has a steady job, she’s surrounded by friends and family, and yet. There’s something missing and she doesn’t quite know what that something is until Thea, one of her students, has a stray dog she brings to Quinn. And Quinn decides that this dog is hers.
Unfortunately, Bill doesn’t want a dog and their lease doesn’t allow for one–and that’s the catalyst for Quinn breaking things off with Bill and deciding to shake up the rest of her life as well. Also unfortunately, it’s the catalyst for Bill to completely lose his shit and become creepy stalker dude.
I think I understand where Quinn is coming from a lot more now that I’m in my late 30’s than I was in my mid-20’s, when I first read this. And Crusie’s characters are just so wonderful–they’re so real and solid and I feel like they’re people I could run into in my life. And the dogs! I think there’s a dog in every single Crusie novel and while I am really very much not a dog person, I do love the dogs in these books. The dogs are almost always harbingers of change in Crusie novels, much like the house is a harbinger of change in Barbara Michaels novels (I love me some Barbara Michaels).
There are a lot of other wonderful relationships in this book, too–Quinn’s best friend Darla and her husband Max, her parents and her mom’s girlfriend (her parents have a small town open marriage! it’s awesome!), and even Quinn’s sister Zoe and her husband are great. And then there’s Zoe’s ex-husband, Nick. Who would be Quinn’s other best friend and Max’s brother. Who has serious commitment issues and never dates women who are near his age. But as Quinn changes her life, he starts to notice her–and she starts to notice him. It’s wonderful, the way they sort of fumble towards each other (and despite the cover of the paperback, there is no under-car nookie).
Which brings up back to Bill, Quinn’s ex-boyfriend and current stalker. One of the things that Crusie really hammers home in this book is how nearly everyone in their small town is willing to cut Bill a tremendous amount of slack with his behavior and how, in places, the local power structure reinforces and encourages it. I found it all too realistic and a little bit frightening. When Quinn finally makes a police report, she isn’t believed (despite her father having said something to the chief) because Bill told the chief that she “likes it rough”. The school principal makes any number of spurious accusations because, to him, the most important thing is the baseball team and winning the championship so the levy for a new stadium will pass.
And something else I noticed on this reading: from the very first chapter, Crusie makes it clear that Bill is creepy–on page 4 Quinn reveals that when they first started dating, Bill had her car key copied so he could take it to fill it with gas and pre-warm it for her. It eventually becomes clear that Bill just sort of insinuated himself into her life: he gradually moved his stuff into her apartment until he was living with her, he badgered her into moving into an apartment he picked out and furnished with no input from her–and after she breaks up with him, he continues on as if she’s just temporarily separated from him and that she’ll come to her senses at any moment. He is stifling and the sections from his point of view are chilling.
So what about Quinn’s burgeoning relationship with Nick? As well as the upheavals in the relationships between the other characters? All this stuff is interesting and it ties together in a really nice thematic way but on this reading, I was concentrating mainly on Bill’s trip to creepytown and Quinn’s ultimate refusal to put up with him for one more minute. I think Bill getting what’s coming to him is one of the most satisfying aspects of this book, in part because he does it to himself (he sets some boobytraps for Quinn in her home that end up backfiring on him).
This is, quite clearly, a feminist book. Crusie’s women have their agency and motives and they direct their own lives. Their goals in the books tend to center on having stable relationships with men, but in the genre in which Crusie writes, that is to be expected. Her heroines tend to be solidly middle aged and with careers and interests outside of getting married which I really enjoy. I also enjoy the fact that her heroines don’t have perfect bodies or faces and that Crusie doesn’t linger on the specific actions that happen during the sex scenes but more on the way each character is feeling–there’s a reality to the sex scenes which I find really refreshing, especially when the sex isn’t necessarily great (I have a weird fondness for bad sex in romances; I don’t know why)–and Crusie seems to get that sex is inherently funny.
So to sum up: this is a short book but there’s a lot going on in it and I think it’s a great introduction to Crusie’s books, my very favorite of which is Welcome to Temptation (which I might need to reread this week as well). I really can’t recommend Crusie highly enough–her books really are just that good.