22 January 2022

Review: DREAM GIRL, Laura Lippman

Synopsis (author)

Following up on her acclaimed and wildly successful New York Times bestseller Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman returns with a dark, complex tale of psychological suspense with echoes of Misery involving a novelist, incapacitated by injury, who is plagued by mysterious phone calls.

In the end, has anyone really led a blameless life?

Injured in a freak fall, novelist Gerry Andersen is confined to a hospital bed in his glamorous high-rise apartment, dependent on two women he barely knows: his incurious young assistant, and a dull, slow-witted night nurse.

Then late one night, the phone rings. The caller claims to be the “real” Aubrey, the alluring title character from his most successful novel, Dream Girl.  But there is no real Aubrey. She’s a figment born of a writer’s imagination, despite what many believe or claim to know. Could the cryptic caller be one of his three ex-wives playing a vindictive trick after all these years? Or is she Margot, an ex-girlfriend who keeps trying to insinuate her way back into Gerry’s life?

And why does no one believe that the call even happened?

Isolated from the world, drowsy from medication, Gerry slips between reality and a dreamlike state in which he is haunted by his own past: his faithless father, his devoted mother; the women who loved him, the women he loved.

And now here is Aubrey, threatening to visit him, suggesting that she is owed something. Is the threat real or is it a sign of dementia? Which scenario would he prefer? Gerry has never been so alone, so confused – and so terrified.

Chilling and compulsively readable, touching on timely issues that include power, agency, appropriation, and creation, Dream Girl is a superb blend of psychological suspense and horror that reveals the mind and soul of a writer.

My take

In her author's note at the end of the book Lippman wrote: This is a book about what goes on inside a writer's mind and it is, by my lights, my first work of horror.

To be quite honest, I did not always think that I would give this novel as high a ranking as I have. That is probably mostly due to the incredible twist in the final pages.

Incapacitated and bed-bound by his recent tumble down the stairs in his Baltimore apartment, Gerry Anderson is reliant on two women for all his daily needs. He is unable to write  and spends most of his time remembering his past, his three failed marriages, the affairs that didn't become marriages, his devoted mother who eventually developed Alzheimer's, and his father who abandoned himself and his mother when he was a teenager, for another family.

All of those memories made the story flit from one time frame to another, and at times I struggled to work out which time frame I was actually in. The author makes the reader work very hard to "compose" the events sequentially.  

However I also think there are times when the story borders on literature, when Lippman shows how well read she actually is, under the guise of a crime fiction writer, taking on the person of Gerry Anderson himself.

My rating: 4.5 

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