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Psychological Mysteries

I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman, William Morrow, $25.99.

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Laura Lippman seems to be fascinated by teens and pre-teens, and she’s so exquisitely in touch with their behavior it seems almost magical.  Although as anyone who remembers being a teen or is one (or who lives with one), there’s nothing magical about that time of rapid body growth, hormonal overload, and  lack of impulse control.  It’s confusing for parents as they see their precious babies grow up and away, and it’s confusing for the teens, who inhabit the hormonal bodies.

This book, while not centering on a troubled teen, centers instead on a young woman who, at age 15, was kidnaped and raped by a serial killer, and who let her live for reasons known only to himself.  This incident has of course shadowed the now woman’s life.  As Eliza Benedict, she lives a staid life as the wife of a successful financial wizard and the mother of 8 year old Albie and 14 year old Iso.  As Elizabeth Lerner, the teenager who made the decision to go along with her kidnapper in order to survive, her life was suddenly and sharply divided between Elizabeth and Eliza.  As Lippman alternates her narrative between Walter Bowman, the kidnapper’s, recollections, and Elizabeth’s and Eliza’s, she does something she’s very good at.

It’s almost like she’s coloring, shading and deepening her characters as she adds detail to them.  I don’t mean that they’re flat as she starts out, but as the book progresses, your understanding of them becomes deeper and they become more and more like actual humans that you might know.  You’ll like Eliza Benedict, and Elizabeth Lerner too.  She’s a wonderful mother, but as the details of her past become clearer and clearer it’s obvious that she is ultra protective (and understandably so) of her children.

Walter, on death row, has reached out to Eliza, ostensibly to apologize but also because he wants her to visit him in prison.  Eliza’s husband never questions her motives (he seems incredibly understanding and patient) but as you read on, you’ll question Walter’s.  He seems to have some kind of agenda, other than a face to face apology.  Lippman is also the master as whisking in a surprise moment toward the end of her narrative – I feel gypped at this point if I’m not shocked, and she’s always laid the groundwork for the surprise.  It often hinges on a different perception of a person or an event, usually so simple a turn in point of view that you’re surprised at yourself for not catching it.

As the book progresses it becomes clear that Walter and Eliza actually know each other as well as they know almost anyone else.  That fact, as well as a late and beautifully written scene between Eliza and her sister, Vonnie, illuminate Eliza’s character as though a spotlight has been thrown on it.  Like another gifted female writer, Jane Austen (who Lippman makes a sly reference to at one point), this writer is able to take a 360 degree view of her characters, one not always afforded to themselves, but it’s luxuriously afforded to you, the reader.

The change Elizabeth makes at the end of the novel is a very believable one.  It’s a small and human one, but it’s also one that signifies a larger sea change within.  This author, while compulsively readable, is also incredibly gifted.  She’s classified as a mystery novelist.  Mysteries are a genre I love, but sometimes there are writers within it who offer just a little bit more.  They are mystery writers but they are also novelists.  Laura Lippman is definitely one of that select group.

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