Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st July 2021 from Faber and Faber
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
How can a woman who never existed come back to haunt you?
Gerry Anderson has been having trouble sleeping. He’s unwell – bed-bound – and has only his night nurse and his personal assistant for company. But what’s really troubling him are the phone calls. Phone calls from a woman claiming to be the ‘real’ Aubrey.
But that can’t be. Aubrey’s just a character Gerry made up in a book, years ago.
Can Gerry see past the ever-blurring lines of fact and fiction and figure out who is threatening him, or has his long-overdue moment of reckoning finally arrived?
I love Laura Lippman’s writing. She’s smart and funny and her plotting is always excellent. Dream Girl is no exception. This time, Lippman is having quite a lot of fun and there’s a deal of social commentary sitting nicely alongside the story of successful literary fiction author, Gerry Anderson.
Thrice married Gerry has recently moved out of his New York apartment and returned home to Baltimore to look after his ailing mother. But he has no sooner installed himself in an expensive upmarket duplex penthouse there, than his mother dies. Still, at least the move has enabled him to sell up and leave Margot behind.
Margot moves from man to man and it’s not ever easy to get her to let go – he even tried foisting her off on his agent. So selling up and leaving her in New York feels like a final severing of the relationship.
Gerry hasn’t written anything for some time, but he did write Dream Girl, the book that brought him literary and financial success, touching a nerve in the zeitgeist of the time.
His agent wants him to write a memoir, but Gerry doesn’t feel that he wants to do that yet; still though, he doesn’t know what he does want to write. Then one day he slips and falls on his internal staircase and lands badly ending up with a bilateral quad tear.
Stuck in bed, and dosed up on painkillers, Gerry drifts in and out of oblivion, remembering events and people from his life. It doesn’t take long to get the measure of Gerry. He is his greatest fan, for sure. He also doesn’t see women as much other than subjects for objectification, though he’d deny that, of course. But lying in bed, immobile, means that the more the women in his life have Gerry exactly where they want him.
Immobilised, his thoughts go back to his marriages, other relationships, and his childhood where his father was a cheater, eventually leaving the family altogether. Gerry is looked after by Aileen, a nurse who comes in every night and by his assistant Victoria who is there during the day to attend to his every need.
As he dozes one evening his phone rings and a woman claims to be his muse for Aubrey, the protagonist in his novel, Dream Girl. Gerry knows that’s not possible and yet he can’t quite work out what is going on. Is he hallucinating, or is something more devilish at work? More shadowy events and then one night Gerry awakens to find the dead body of a woman on his floor.
Lippman’s use of short chapters, ranging from the present to times in Gerry’s past, make this an easy read. We see the past through Gerry’s eyes and yet cannot ignore his misogyny. Lippman also threads so many wonderful literary references throughout this book, from The Rocky Horror Show to Breaking Bad in a clever and often very witty, laugh out loud fashion. There’s even a cameo from Tess Monaghan, the accidental P.I. and Lippman’s own fictional creation.
She satirises the world of literary affectation gossip and backstabbing, just as she evokes a kind of ‘Misery’ on Gerry. The reader has to guess what on earth is going on as Gerry’s fevered brain tries to work out why there’s a dead woman in his apartment.
Verdict: Dream Girl is a twisty and delightfully sharp thriller which is beautifully plotted and wickedly executed. It’s a layered psychological thriller with a dose of horror and a great helping of satirical humour, all of which combines into a terrific read and comes with a satisfying ending.
Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since. She is the daughter of the late Theo Lippman Jr., a Sun editorial writer who retired in 1995, and Madeline Mabry Lippman, a former Baltimore City school librarian. Her sister, Susan, is a local bookseller.