I received an ARC of Dream Girl from Net Galley and Faber & Faber LTD in exchange for my honest feedback.
This book. Oh, happy sigh.
I have to admit, Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl started out a little slow for me, but really gained momentum and by the time I was about a third of the way in, I had entered can’t-put-it-down mode.
Mini Plot Summary: Sixty-one-year-old author Gerry Anderson – renowned for his novel Dream Girl – has moved back to Baltimore to care for his mother in her final days. Then an accident leaves him bed-bound, with only his personal assistant Victoria and his night-nurse Aileen for company. The pain and immobilization are bad enough… but then he begins receiving mysterious communications from someone who says she is Aubrey, the main character in Gerry’s most famous book. The only thing is, there is no Aubrey. Gerry made her up.
What I Liked About This Book: I loved that this book was told from the perspective of a writer. I know it can be dangerous to conflate author and protagonist, but it’s difficult to separate the two, especially when the main character is a writer! Of course, Gerry has his own… idiosyncracies that I doubt Lippman shares. But I couldn’t help but wonder if her experience as a successful-for-many-years writer were helping to shape some of Gerry’s musing about art and teaching.
I also loved that Gerry’s thoughts were so infused by other works of art. We get lots of references to King and Roth and Hammet… and so many others. There are lots of movie references – most of which went right over my head and made me want to seek out the films in question. It made the book feel so layered – like every novel is a palimpsest written over the top of all the works that came before. As a would-be writer myself, I found that so comforting in some way.
The plot of this book felt familiar in some ways; I am sure it was informed by MANY of the books and films mentioned throughout, but I was able to see the influence of one book/film couplet in particular, which I loved because it both acted as a guidepost and a differentiating point.
I also liked seeing The World Today through the eyes of a sixty-one-year-old man. Lippman was able to explore some of today’s social issues (#metoo, changes in preferred language style, Twitter) through Gerry, which I enjoyed. He was, for me, a deeply unlikable character… and yet Lippman crafted him in such a way that I ended up sympathizing with him and seeing the world from his perspective.
This was the first book I’ve read in a while that had a single narrative perspective, which I enjoyed. However, the chapters did alternate between the present and the past. I think it was done really well, and helped enhance the feeling of being inside a drifting, dreamy mind while also building out Gerry’s character for us.
What I Didn’t Like About This Book: Because so much of this book takes place inside Gerry’s mind, it had a meandering, dream-like quality that I found difficult to attach to at first. It felt, for awhile, like listening to someone monologue – and some of that felt very “kids these days! Back in my day, I had to walk up hill both ways…” But it grew on me, and I was able to appreciate how complex and nuanced Gerry was as a character.
The ending felt a little unsatisfying to me. Or, maybe not unsatisfying (I felt like things happened as they should), but unrealistic. Of course, I don’t want to say too much lest I spoil it for you. But once you read it, let me know how you feel about it.
Should You Read This Book? This is just on the edge of horror – not so gruesome or terrifying as many books, but more of a smoldering, dreamlike build to truly horrifying events. The writing was excellent and the characterization was nuanced and the undercurrent of social commentary was really sharp and thought-provoking. I loved it and I think you will too.