By Leslie Lindsay
Such a masterful, slow burn of a literary thriller. Highly unique, deliciously dark and complex.
WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS
ALWAYS WITH A BOOK
Laura Lippman & Leslie Lindsay
A distinctive voice in crime fiction, Laura Lippman has been named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years. She’s a New York Times bestseller and has won more than 20 prizes for her work and been shortlisted for 30 more.
ABOUT DREAM GIRL:
Gerry Anderson is a big-time author, his book, DREAM GIRL catapulted him onto the bestseller lists and he hasn’t come down since...his sense of self is up there, too. But now, he’s been injured in a freak accident, laid up in his Baltimore penthouse, which, in essence, is pretty ironic and hilarious. Gerry doesn’t exactly want to be in Baltimore, he says he’s happiest in NYC, where he had been living. He has relocated to care for his ailing mother, who had issues with delusional dementia.
Here is where this synopsis and review gets a bit tricky: are we summarizing the story of DREAM GIRL the novel you see here, or the one “Gerry” wrote. DREAM GIRL is a bit of a detour for Laura Lippman (June 22, 2021, William Morrow), which she calls ‘horror,’ but it’s also a bit of a frame story. It’s slippery and elusive, just when you think you have a grasp on it, reality shifts.
Gerry is not particularly ‘likeable,’ but if you see him as a slightly skewed but lovable narcissist, you might actually really enjoy his wry sense of humor. I enjoyed the writerly/author insights and the literary references.
DREAM GIRL is a delicious head-trip. Gerry begins to question his sanity when he goes in and out of dreamlike states due to a combination of sleep meds, isolation, and more. He has a night nurse he doesn’t particularly trust, a day assistant who handles calls, errands, bills, but something is clearly ‘off.’ Gerry begins receiving calls from a woman claiming to be his ‘character’ from DREAM GIRL. Could he really be losing his mind…like his late mother? There are no record of the calls and so maybe…
We also get a terrific backstory, which is adequately placed, delving into Gerry’s childhood, his father, and so much more, which I loved. Keep in mind: DREAM GIRL is not your conventional storytelling technique, but a deviation from tradition—hugely creative and convoluted at times.
DREAM GIRL is whip-smart, hugely unique hook, with a deep sense of interiority, and the ending is inevitable. Truly a masterful read.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Laura Lippman back to the author interview series:
Laura! Welcome back. It’s always a treat to chat with you. We last chatted about WILDE LAKE, which was borrowed from some of your life experiences (what fiction isn’t?!) and now, with DREAM GIRL, which is wholly different, there’s an echo of you here, too. In fact, your author’s note indicates that you and Gerry are about the same age, creatures of Baltimore, formed by big and small experiences…can you talk a little more about your inspiration for DREAM GIRL?
It was the end of 2018 and I watched A Quiet Place over the holidays. I like horror films quite a lot and I’ve always been intrigued by how many horror stories use physical isolation as part of the set-up. But it occurred to me – and, remember, it was 2018 – that even people in big cities with busy lives might be more isolated than they realized and wouldn’t that be more horrible still? To see the world, to hear it – but not be able to get to it.
I found the structure and plot so unique and mind-bending. It’s unconventional, but that’s part of its charm. You describe DREAM GIRL as a bit of a ‘horror,’ I see it as a frame story, sort of a story within a story. It’s also very hypnotic, dreamy, and isolating. Would you agree with that assessment? If not, let me know where I went wrong.
Hypnotic, dreamy – yes! The chapters in the past spring from what’s happening to Gerry in the present and, at first, the connections are easy to spot and literal. His accident has required him to be hospitalized, so he remembers waking up in the hospital as a boy who suffered a burst appendix, his parents sniping at one another. A snowstorm knocks out the power in the present day and he remembers how a blizzard affected the city when he was young. But as the book goes on, the connections get stranger. He has reason to remember a particularly graphic scene from the film Scarface and his memory takes him to a sad lunch he had with his mother at (the very real) Al Pacino’s pizza restaurant in Baltimore.
“Perceptive, often amusing insights into a writer’s mind make this a standout. Lippman is in top form for this enticingly witty, multilayered guessing game.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Dream Girl
Gerry is very isolated. In so many ways, this is reflective of the times we are living. I felt such sense of claustrophobia, isolation, and a thrumming anxiety in DREAM GIRL. Just as the country is starting to ‘open back up,’ I was thrust into this sort of dismal and topsy-turvy world. I’m guessing a good deal of this was written during the pandemic? Can you talk about that?
If I had finished the book on time (February 1), it would have been done before the U.S. even realized it had a Covid problem. But I was, unusually for me, late with this book and I feel that it was a weird blessing to have something that required such intense focus for the first three months of the pandemic. And I think a lot of those feelings seeped into the book – the fear, the unknowingness of the time.
I absolutely loved all of the literary references, old classics (and more contemporary ones, too), how they played off one another and fed into the story. For example, Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes up. In what ways were you influenced by other works? And can you talk a little about your process?
Books formed me, I feel that I am mainly made from the books I read when I was young. Books taught me how to “be” if that makes sense. Gerry and I are different readers – he’s much more of a literary snob, he reads competitively, if that makes sense – but I’m like him in that my default is to compare my life to a book. And to try to make everything into a narrative that I control, which, as I am reminded again and again, I don’t.
Also, I loved the backstory! I find it intriguing to delve into the psyche of a character, particularly a character who is an author. this case, there was a darker side to Gerry’s dad. Bigamy and estrangement. In fact, these themes surfaced in another book I read recently and even have been unearthed in my own extended family. Without giving too much away, can you give us a sense of what shaped this backstory?
Gerry is an example of what I consider to be a very dangerous type of man – someone who believes himself to be good. I believe in trying to be good, in striving to be good, but if you self-identify as good – yikes! Gerry wants to be a better man than his father, but that’s a pretty low bar. And he becomes so convinced of his own goodness that he doesn’t recognize when he’s being thoroughly awful.
Where and what time of day do you find yourself most creative? Do you find that different types of creativity—brainstorming versus actual writing—come at different time and places or you?
I love to write in the morning. I can brainstorm almost any time. I “solve” a lot of plot problems while walking or working out.
Laura, this has been so delightful. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, perhaps something you’d like to ask me?
Thank you for being a smart reader who loves books. We can’t ask for anything more than that!
For more information, to connect with Laura Lippman, or to purchase a copy of DREAM GIRL, please visit:
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YOU MIGHT LIKE:
DREAM GIRL reminded me a bit of Gillian Flynn’s earlier work meets REAR WINDOW (Hitchcock), WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (A.J. Finn) ala Gillian Macmillian.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been hailed as a distinctive voice in crime fiction. Recently named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years, she has produced 24 novels, a book of short stories, a collection of essays, and a children’s picture book, and been published in more than 25 languages. A New York Times bestseller, she also has won more than 20 prizes for her work and been shortlisted for 30 more. Her 2019 novel, Lady in the Lake, will be produced as a television series starring Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o. Lippman lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her daughter.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to become an audiobook from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family. You can learn more about HERE.
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Unless otherwise noted, author and cover images are courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover and June featured authors designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay.