Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
Famous author Gerry Andersen’s life has been filled with missteps, but none greater than his purchase of a glamorous Baltimore apartment. Always the dutiful son, he has recently returned to Baltimore to care for his ailing mother. When she unexpectedly dies, Gerry faces the dilemma of whether to sell the apartment and return to New York City or remain in the place that spawned his bestselling novel, Dream Girl. The title also happens to be the name of this new novel by New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman, out now from William Morrow.
While Gerry’s weighing the pros and cons of selling, fate decides for him when he tumbles down his floating staircase, breaks his tailbone and is indefinitely confined to a hospital bed. For the first time, Gerry’s life spins out of control. He becomes isolated from his friends, his agent and the literary world. He becomes dependent upon his apathetic assistant and his disinterested night nurse, and Gerry becomes imprisoned in a dream world fueled by painkillers and the paranoia of inherited early-onset dementia.
A FICTIONAL CHARACTER COMES TO LIFE
The plot thickens when Aubrey, the protagonist in Dream Girl, comes to life. A woman claiming to be the “real” Aubrey calls him, writes him letters and provocatively tweets about him. Are these communications real, or is he going crazy?
The Aubrey mystery is the tip of Gerry’s iceberg. After a tragedy occurs in his apartment, he really doesn’t know what to think. Is he the perpetrator or a pawn in a “gaslighting” scheme?
Through flashbacks, Gerry exposes the good, the bad and the ugly of 60 years as he grapples to understand his current circumstances. He relives his father’s abandonment and his lifelong devotion to his beautiful mother. He revisits his college friendships, which blossomed along with his writing talents and his winning the prestigious Hartwell Prize. And he dissects his three marriages to smart, beautiful women, which occurred during critical stages of his mercurial literary career. Mostly, he remained faithful to his wives and lovers, in spirit if not in body. Convinced that these women bore him no ill will, he still wonders whether a former friend, acquaintance, lover or wife could be instigating the Aubrey pranks.
No aspect of his life is exempt from his obsessive search for Aubrey. He examines his successful career for potential enemies, all the while believing he has been the model of civility, professionalism and sexual equality. But the reader realizes he has been fooling himself.
The snapshots of Gerry’s existence reveal a man so egotistical he has been clueless to the emotions and needs of others. Despite his protestations, his views of women, politics and sexuality are archaic and inappropriate. Seducing, controlling and objectifying women have been motivators throughout Gerry’s life, and it is ironic that his assistant and caregiver become his gatekeepers while tightening their grip on him.
Despite the money, awards and fame, Gerry finds himself alone. There is no one to help him discover the truth about who is taunting him or why, or to save him.
A COMBINATION OF PAST AND PRESENT
With Gerry Andersen, Lippman has drawn a character study of man who is clearly the product of his past and relates to the world through the lens of the cultural milestones — books, television shows and movies — of his time. Gerry is a dinosaur, stuck in the glory days of his literary triumphs and unable to navigate the rapidly changing world.
As I read Dream Girl, Stephen King’s chilling Misery and Fellini’s masterpiece film 8½ were brought to mind. In the former, a famous writer is held captive by his number-one female fan after an accident. In the latter, an author reflects on his relationships with the women who shaped him. Each of these works addresses the theme of assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Like Gerry, these male protagonists failed to accept blame for the injury they caused and paid the price for their chauvinism.
Dream Girl is a psychological thriller focusing upon the moments of the past and present. Each event has an intermediate implication — and a long-term impact — upon each successive event. Stitched together, they comprise the patchwork quilt of one man’s life. Throughout Gerry’s flashbacks, Lippman drops breadcrumbs, enticing the reader along the path to an “Aha!” moment that comes long before Gerry himself arrives there.
As a writer, Gerry Andersen took pride in devising the plot, the climax and the ending in his novels. And keeping the identity of his “Dream Girl” secret. With Dream Girl, Lippman has woven a complicated web of deception, hubris, power and sexual politics with a fitting — and surprising — conclusion to Gerry’s story and legacy.