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July 4, 2010

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere was the first of my hot summer books, and the perfect book for a sunny long weekend. It’s mainly told from the point of view of Eliza Benedict, an unassuming wife and mother currently preoccupied with adjusting to life in Maryland after six years living in London, and also with her daughter’s initial  forays into teenaged awfullness.

The last thing on Eliza’s mind is Walter Bowman, from what she’s come to refer to (though she rarely refers to it) as “the summer I was fifteen”. That summer, after she stumbled upon him burying a body, Bowman kidnapped Eliza, and kept her prisoner for thirty-nine days, and then he let her go, to be the only one of his victims w ho’d live to tell.

Years later, Eliza appears unscathed on the surface, having managed a fulfilling life for herself, married to a man she loves, and as a devoted mother to her children. (Eliza’s academic background is in children’s literature; she claims, “Everything I know about parenting, I learned from Ramona Quimby”).  Though she never feels completely secure, insisting that the windows stay locked even in the heat of summer, but there are indeed long periods of time during which she doesn’t think of Walter Bowman and that summer. So she is really rather rattled to hear from him again.

Bowman had been sentenced to death for the murder of another girl he’d picked up when he was with Eliza, but due to technicalities has been waiting on Death Row ever since. When he contacts Eliza, he is hoping to manipulate her into assisting him with one more appeal, the same way he’d managed to manipulate her into complying with his wishes during that summer long ago. Of course, Eliza initially resists his advances, but he has promised to reveal information about his other victims, and she also hopes that by meeting him, she might finally understand why he let her go.

In addition to Eliza’s point of view, the novel comes from the perspective of Walter, and from that of Trudy Tackett, mother of one of his victims. Trudy’s reason for living is to finally witness Walter’s executive, and her sections of the novel are the most compelling of the trio– Lippman nails the might of her fury and the hole that is her grief. Walter himself is less believable, though perhaps being inside his head is just discomforting. Eliza also is hard to pin down– she’s meant to be somewhat unknowable, even to herself, and far more impressionable than impressing, but sometimes she reads as though Lippman wasn’t altogether sure who she was either.

I’d Know You Anywhere is not as successful as Lippman’s previous stand-alone novels (Life Sentences and What the Dead Know), its structure as fragmented as Eliza’s character. By its second half, however, the book picks up steam, becomes more cohesive, and by the time Eliza’s facing Walter down in his cell, the whole thing is worth the ride. Lippman’s writing is so smart, the prose bursting with the stuff of the world, with facts and ideas, and her characters usually jump off the page– Eliza’s overbearing sister Vonnie, her eccentric but loving parents, her daughter and her son.

The book is devourable, suspense mounting as the plot whips along, and really, summer days were really made for books like this.

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