Today I’m sharing a review of a new book by Laura Lippman, Dream Girl, a psychological suspense story that immediately made me think of Stephen King’s Misery. But this is a delightful twist on that story.
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.
Since I’m a huge fan of Lippman’s novels, the standalones as well as the series featuring the PI, Tess Monaghan, I really looked forward to reading this book. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. When the story started I thought of it as a spoof of King’s classic Misery, and it certainly was panning out to be a pretty good spoof, but Gerry is not the sympathetic character that Paul Sheldon is. Gerry is a self-absorbed man, probably a narcissist’s, and I really didn’t like him.
Normally, I have to like the central character to continue reading a story, and had this been from an author I wasn’t familiar with, I might have moved on to another novel. But this is Laura Lippman, one of my favorites authors, and surely she wouldn’t disappoint me.
She didn’t. As the story progressed, she added layers to the plot that drew me in, and I went along for the rest of the ride with the story just to see what was going to happen next.
The question of who was making the late-night calls to Gerry, pretending to be the fictional woman in his book, Dream Girl, was compelling as suspects were introduced through his trips back in time to explore old relationships. Going back and forth to different time periods was a good technique and the references to pop culture of each period was spot on.
Each reminiscence of someone who might hold a grudge for some past mistake made me wonder, “Is this the one,” reminding me that keeping a reader wondering and guessing is one of Lippman’s strengths as a writer.
Aileen, the nurse who is hired to take care of Gerry at night as he recovers from the injuries is a well-drawn character even though she is not a sharply menacing as Annie Wilkes in Misery. Still, she’s menacing enough, and when her true identity, and connection to his assistant, Victoria, is revealed, it was a nice twist and one that took me by surprise. When I first met Aileen in the story, I saw her as an eccentric, yet harmless, person.
The climax is another huge surprise, as is the denouement, and I won’t say much about either to give anything away. Let’s just say I didn’t see it coming, and it took me a while of thinking about them to finally realize I liked the ending. And I liked the book.
Since Laura Lippman’s debut in 1997, she has been recognized as a distinctive voice in mystery fiction and named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years. Her books have won most of the major awards in her field and been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her daughter.