Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As an aging man, there’s few things that can scare me more than the idea of falling down the stairs. So this one was keeping me up nights in a cold sweat.
Gerry Anderson is a writer whose biggest success, a novel called Dream Girl, is the source of endless speculation about if the lead character was inspired by a real person despite Gerry’s absolute insistence that it wasn’t based on anybody. Gerry has moved back to his hometown of Baltimore to care for his ailing mother, but she dies soon after he buys a swanky new apartment. After receiving a mysterious piece of mail, Gerry takes a tumble down the stairs and breaks his hip.
Bedridden in his fancy apartment, Gerry has to rely on his assistant and a gruff night nurse for his care. That’s when he starts receiving phone calls from a woman claiming to be the actual inspiration for Dream Girl. An unnerved Gerry continues to insist that isn’t possible since the character was entirely fictional, but he finds it hard to prove his claims of being contacted.
As he tries to sort out his confused state of mind, Gerry begins reflecting on his life, and while he would be the first to tell you that he’s always been a man who did his best to stay out of trouble, it becomes apparent that he’s left a string of women who might have grudges in his wake. Is it a disgruntled former lover tormenting him? Is it all just something he invented in a haze of pain killers and sleeping meds? Or is the dementia that his mother suffered from hitting him at an earlier age?
I’ve only started reading Laura Lippmann in the last few years, but I’ve absolutely loved her writing. This is another example of why because it was an exceptionally tricky thing to pull off. On one level, it’s a story about a man trapped in a bed for most of the book, and it all hinges on putting the reader into his perspective. That means not just relying on the flashbacks scenes that eventually tell us who Gerry is, but also providing a steady stream of consciousness as his mind wanders. Not only does Lippmann makes this interesting, she makes all of it necessary.
The character work done on Gerry is excellent because when we’re introduced to him, he seems like a pretty decent guy. A writer who came from a humble background, and the kind of guy who would leave his beloved New York lifestyle to care for his aging mother. Gradually, we start to understand that even when Gerry seems like he’s doing something for somebody else that there’s usually a selfish motive behind it even if he’s lying to himself about it.
The mystery of who is claiming to be the actual Dream Girl starts to take a back seat to the holes in the history that Gerry has invented for himself, and in the end he’ll have to confront who he actually is and what he’s done. While I was able to guess a few things, there were still revelations made that made my jaw drop.
There’s a few other works of fiction that seem similar, as if Lippman drew inspiration from a few sources, but it all comes together in a first rate work that feels original and unique.
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