I can’t quite remember where I first read about Laura Lippman or even what I read … All I remember is that it sounded interesting – and interesting it was!
This book raised quite a few questions for me. On one level it is a straight forward thriller about Eliza Benedict who is abducted at age 15 and forms a strange bond with her kidnapper. The basic plot line is captivating enough and Lippman’s characters are well developed and intriguing enough to hold the reader’s attention.
What is more intriguing, though, about this novel, is that it about so much more than an abduction. What is really explores is how people deal with their pasts, and what they choose to make of themselves in light of the experiences that they endure. Eliza Benedict had, in many ways, run away from what happened to her, tried to avoid the stigma that came with being a survivor when all the other victims were killed. She was so successful in recreating herself that she really though that she had escaped her past. Where the novel becomes interesting is when her past, in the form of her abductor on death row, catches up with her and confronts her, forcing her to come to terms with the central role that this kidnapping played in her life and in who she is now.
I found Eliza Benedict to be a surprisingly staunch character. On the outside she seems meek and mild, allowing her husband to speak for her and dictate their lives. But, beneath the meekness she is a tower of strength and this shows itself most in her final confrontation toward the end of the book – I won’t say more as it will spoil the story for you!
I loved the way that Eliza’s moral compass so clearly steered her actions – the Washington Post calls her “decent”. I loved the way she devoted herself to her family, that she refused to be swayed by what other people thought, that she was able to reconstruct herself in the face of this intense adversity. And I loved the gumption of Eliza’s daughter, the tenderness of her son and the unusualness of her parents.
I will definitely be looking for other Lippman books to read!
Allow me to preface this review with the following: I have not read Bender’s ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ and I had no preconceptions or expectations before reading this book. It was one of those quick grabs at the local library – pretty cover, sweet title, you know the drill.
In any event, it was quite an intriguing read, quirky in a way. The protagonist, Mona Gray, is tormented by numbers. She is clearly gifted in many ways, but it has manifested in an anxiety and a lack of social graces which causes her great distress and leads to a general sense of dysfunction.
Mona’s family seems to be equally dysfunctional and this only serves to add to the overall quirkiness of the story.
Essentially, Mona lives her life in fear. We never really discover what she is afraid of, but it has something to do with the unknown, things that she cannot control. It is this fear which grips her and makes life unbearable.
There were several unbelievable aspects to this tale: I didn’t quite believe that a school would employ someone who wasn’t a teacher simply because they had a gift with numbers (at least I hope they wouldn’t) and I didn’t buy the fact that a store owner would simply leave his shop open and take a lengthy vacation, allowing customers to help themselves to his wares. These were only two of the glaring unbelievables in the story. But in some way that added to the unusual nature of this text and didn’t grate against me too significantly.
Overall, I enjoyed the book in a loose kind of way. I wasn’t totally immersed, but it was a nice filler.
This is one of those books that I am so very glad that I read. It was a random pick up at the local library and I was gripped from the first page:
“Holding the glass door open with her hip, she dragged the suitcase into the stairwell leading down to the underground parking lot. Sweat trickled down her chest and back beneath her T-shirt; it was only slightly cooler here than outside in the shimmering heat of the airless streets. The strong smell of decaying fast food from a jettisoned burger bag did nothing to improve the flavour of the place.
There was no elevator. Step by step she manhandled the heavy suitcase down to the level where she was parked, then realised that she didn’t really want it in her car until she knew what was in it. She found a relatively private spot behind some dumpsters, sheltered from security cameras and the curious gazes of passersby. The case wasn’t locked, just held closed by two clasps and a heavy-duty strap. Her hands were shaking, and one of them was numb and bloodless from carrying the ungainly weight for such a distance. But she managed to unbuckle the strap and unsnap the locks.
In the suitcase was a boy: naked, fair-haired, rather thin, about three years old. The shock rocked her back on her heels so that she fell against the rough plastic surface of the dumpster. His knees rested against his chest, as if someone had folded him up like a shirt. Otherwise he would not have fit, she supposed. His eyes were closed, and his skin shone palely in the bluish glare of the fluorescent ceiling lights. Not until she saw his lips part slightly did she realise he was alive.”
So this is the basis of the novel’s story and indeed the entire structure of this tale unfolds around this stolen boy – his origins, the reason for his abduction and the people who encounter him along the way.
This is not a brilliant novel. It certainly has its weaknesses and I found, particularly, that the relationship between Anne and Jan was not deep enough for me to empathise with the deception.
There is, however, some stark juxtaposition between their marriage and Morten and Nina’s marriage and the interplay between the voices of each relationship is quite artful.
The boy himself is an enigma. He rarely speaks and although he is the central focus of the text in so many ways he is quite a minor character.
The authors have rather cleverly woven this narrative around a series of sub-plots and thoroughly enjoyed how thing unfolded.
I am thrilled to have read this book and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Larson series.