Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

I've never read any of Laura Lippman's books before though I've wanted to for a long time, so I was pretty happy when this one showed up in the mail. I started it almost immediately, only to discover it's not a typical Laura Lippman book.

For one thing, it's not a mystery like most of her books are? It's more of a character study of Helen/Heloise Lewis the main character who is a madam...she runs an escort business. And while there's sort of a thriller going on in the background, I don't think that's the point of the book at all. It's really just the story of a woman who survived some pretty incredible things and how she does that...and her motivation, which is to protect her son.

The story starts with Heloise learning about a suburban madam that's been murdered. She doesn't think much about the particular situation, except to think about her own business with which she's been tremendously careful. The narrative goes back and forth in time to how Helen became Heloise and her present day situation. Her present day situation is much less interesting, there's less substance to the story until the very end, so I'm guessing this was the only way to tell it.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn't find it particularly gripping, I could easily set it down to do other things--but at the same time I wanted to finish it. I could really only read a chapter or two at a time but I definitely wanted to know how it ended. Also I found it really quotable, there were all these smart things said in the book, but I found Heloise a bit of a...bore? She seemed to really think a lot of herself, while being sort of gullible. She thought she was in control of her life, but it always seemed clear to me that she wasn't. I don't want to be judgy, but I just felt like I would sympathize more with her than I actually did.

I did think Lippman did a fair job of drawing the complicated relationship between Val and Heloise, though I wish she'd done more with it. But I liked that she illustrated that even while Heloise loathed Val, she was extraordinarily dependent on him. And she craved his approval. At one point, she says she thinks that if they'd lived in a different time or place or if things had been different they might have worked, which is the sort of honest assessment of these kinds of relationships I always appreciate seeing in books...you can have feelings that are real and complicated even if a relationship is sick and bad for you. You don't have to act on those feelings, feelings =/= lifelong commitment, meant to be, etc.

Anyway, the book is interesting in its own way, and apparently this is a character Lippman really was interested in writing more about, after writing a few short stories. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting...do you guys think I'd like her other books?

Rating: 3.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Profanity
Source of Book: received from publisher for review
Publisher: William Morrow


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