I was probably one of the few who didn’t love Laura Lippman’s last book Lady in the Lake last year. It wasn’t that it was an unpleasant reading experience, but it just wasn’t up to my usual lofty expectations for Laura Lippman.
So, when I heard there was a lot of buzz surrounding her new book Dream Girl, I have to admit I was wary. Could it live up to the hype?
I knew the answer within reading the first ten or so pages of this one — I was hooked. In fact, I will (spoiler alert) go so far as to say this is one of Ms. Lippman’s best books. It’s something different for her — a thriller that isn’t necessarily plot-driven but is instead a character exploration. In her afterward, Lippman says that she wrote this response to Stephen King’s Misery and that connection is easy to see.
Gerry is a best-selling writer whose seemingly done it all. His first novel won critical and popular acclaim and while he’s published several books since none has burned quite as brightly. Along the way, Gerry has left quite a wake behind him in his personal life, including multiple ex-wives, various affairs, and an ex-girlfriend who has been squatting at the apartment he sold in New York when he moved to Baltimore to care for his dying mother. Gerry is opinionated, arrogant, and deeply flawed. In other words, he’s a human being who happens to be a best-selling author.
When a letter arrives from the character of his first novel, accusing him of stealing her story, Gerry suffers a fall that leaves him bed-bound and dependent on multiple caregivers to convalesce.
Gerry isn’t necessarily the most likable guy — but Lippman explores his character so well with chapters moving forward and backward through his life that you at least understand what made him a jerk. Lippman gives us her take on one of Stephen King’s favorite themes — the toll and implications of creating fiction for a living and the impact it can have on those around the author. There’s no supernatural element here, though early on it certainly feels to Gerry like something supernatural is going on. Lippman slowly puts the pieces on the table and then begins to knock them all down as the novel barrels toward a conclusion.
The novel doesn’t necessarily have a single antagonist like Annie Wilkes from Misery, but the story does provide readers with multiple suspects for just who could be pulling Gerry’s strings. The novel is a bit of a slow burn, but it’s one that kept me turning pages long after my bedtime for multiple nights. As with the best work by Lippman, the prose is immersive and hypnotic and I found myself glancing back at the pure sentence structure used in the story multiple times. This is a book that I almost want to revisit in a few months on audio book, simply to hear that prose come to life by being performed.
Here’s a novel that’s in the running for my favorite book I’ve read this year and one that I’ve recommended multiple times since finishing the final page to friends who have asked for a recommendation. Consider this a recommendation to pick this one up and, if you haven’t already, discover the satisfaction of great Laura Lippman novel can be.