Saturday, June 19, 2021

Dream Girl

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
6/22/21; 320 pages

Dream Girl by Laura Lippman is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

Gerry Andersen, 61, is a successful novelist who relocated from NYC to an upscale apartment in Baltimore so he could care for his aging mother. She died soon after he moved in and Gerry was at loose ends when he had an accident that left him confined to a hospital bed in his apartment. Now he is cared for during the day by his assistant, Victoria, and at night by a nurse, Aileen. On a regimen of painkillers and physical therapy to build upper body strength so he can use a wheelchair in the future, Gerry's mind wanders back among his various life experiences. When he begins receiving phone calls from a woman who claims she is Aubrey, the main character in his phenomenal best seller, Dream Girl, Gerry knows there is no Aubrey. What does the mysterious caller want and why doesn't the number of the caller show up? Could Gerry be hallucinating?

Chapters alternate between Gerry's current situation and various incidents that happened in his past. The past recollections skip around widely from his childhood to a few years before his accident. He recalls his childhood, three marriages, last girl friend, affairs, book tours, and teaching jobs, in no particular order. Gerry is, naturally, the star of his recollections, but it becomes increasingly clear that Gerry is a bit of a cad and clueless over his less than stellar actions. Clearly, Gerry is an unreliable narrator. He starts out as generally agreeable and quickly loses his charm as his hazy memories jump from one memory to another. To Lippman's credit, the novel delves deep into the mind of this writer and his version of his experiences. In the end, everything merges into a picture of the writer and his life.

With such a limited cast and a house bound main character we really only have Gerry's thoughts available to help us decipher what is really going on in the story line. After a certain event, the novel takes an ominous turn and becomes akin to a horror novel, although I would still place it firmly in the realm of psychological suspense. The plot device of having Gerry housebound, helpless, drugged, and dependent on others for his care merges smoothly with Gerry's concern that he may be hallucinating or losing his mind. The pace is slow, but Lippman does a great job of including little tidbits of cultural, literary, and movie references. (I will admit being hopeful when Tess Monaghan made an appearance in the plot, but it is just a brief visit.)

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of William Morrow.


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