‘You can never know the whole truth of anything.’ – Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman

August 6, 2016 at 8:46 pm (Book review, books, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Mystery fiction)

Lippman  Searching for truth, uncovering deception, both deliberate and inadvertent – these are Lu Brant’s core motivators, in both the personal and professional spheres. She’s the recently elected state’s attorney for Howard County, Maryland, and like her father who served in the position before her, she intends to be an unflinching seeker of justice. But as she starts out making her mark in the legal community, she has no idea how close to home this relentless ambition will soon take her.

A widow with two young children, Lu – short for Luisa – has chosen to move back into her childhood home so that her father, now retired, and his long time housekeeper can help her balance her overloaded life. It’s a bit like living in the past and the present simultaneously. The home in question is in the village of Wilde Lake, situated on the lake itself. Along with her parents, Lu and her much older brother AJ had been among the pioneers of the “new town” of Columbia, Maryland. (As she grew older, Lu had been told the sad facts concerning her mother’s passing.)

The above is but a brief recounting of a complex narrative which alternates back and forth between the past tense narration of the family’s early years in Columbia and the exposition of events occurring in the present. (Also, the past is related by Lu in the first person; the present, in the third person.)  The family’s past is interwoven with Columbia’s early years. In these chapters, Lippman uses the actual names of various streets and neighborhoods.

The problem with parallel narratives is that one of them often asserts a larger claim on the reader’s interest than the other. When that happens,you can become impatient with the narrative that you’re finding less compelling. Again, this was my own experience with the novel.

There is also a problem with reading something that takes place so close to home. The impulse to fact check sometimes overrides one’s attentiveness to the story. At least, that was the case with this reader. I admit it was hard not to jump up and down when ‘Rain Dream Hill’ was mentioned, as I lived there for two years in the mid-1970s, which is pretty much the time period the author is describing in those sections.

Lippman’s writing is as breezily accessible as usual, and her sense of humor is very much intact. At one point, she describes a salad set cherished by her father and referred to by him as his “‘lares and penates’.”  She confesses that “For years I thought that was Latin for oil and vinegar.” (Dictionary.com defines them as “the benevolent spirits and gods of the household.” This is how I have always regarded pets that are kept and loved in the home.)

My overall assessment of Wilde Lake? First off, the local references were fun but at the same time distracting. I found the plot rather convoluted. In addition, I don’t especially care for the technique of jumping back and forth in time, or of switching verb tenses and point of view. I like a straight ahead narration. (This may be one of the reasons I’m currently preferring to read nonfiction, the other being that there’s so much terrific nonfiction being written right now.)

But well, it is Laura Lippman, she is a home town girl and a very talented one, and Lu Brant is an exceptionally likeable and sympathetic character: a thoroughly modern woman in some ways, but still beset with the same doubts and uncertainties that, in the twenty-first century, still bedevil women in this country and elsewhere as well.

So I would say in general that despite the reservations voiced above, I liked the book. I’d recommend it especially to those who are recent residents of this area or who, like me, resided here during the same period as Lu Brant did as a child (and as Laura Lippman herself did as a teenager, graduating from Wilde Lake High School in 1977).

My favorite work by Laura Lippman is still What the Dead Know. This powerful novel from 2008 was inspired by the disappearance of  the Lyon sisters in adjacent Montgomery County in 1975. (Strangely, almost fatefully, after forty years without any substantial leads the case is once again in the news. This stunning development put me in mind of the penultimate line of the story “Dr. Henry Selwyn” by W.G. Sebald: “And so they are ever returning to us, the dead.”

I’d like to give Lu Brant herself the final word:

The truth is not a finite commodity that can be contained within identifiable borders. The truth is messy, riotous, overrunning everything. You can never know the whole truth of anything.

And if you could, you would wish you didn’t.

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Angie Boyter said,

    My biggest problem with it was too many unlikely things happening to the same people. But I still liked it overall.

  2. starrmark said,

    The final quote seems very appropriate for the times.

  3. Kay Wisniewski said,

    Like you I was conflicted about it and distracted by the parallel narratives although I very much enjoyed other books by Lippman.
    Although the widowed narrator of Wilde Lake has moved back to her childhood home, she sends her children to a private school and generally fails to engage with the problems of what she calls “the inner villages.
    As a current resident of one of those villages, I was disappointed by her refusal to engage with those problems.

  4. Johanna said,

    I decided to give Lippman a try and read one of her Tess Monaghan novels, Baltimore Blues. But I was rather disappointed by it. Especially by the unexpected vein of sexism running through it. Tess is smart and (physically) strong and obviously very attractive (because heroines have to be), but yet oh so insecure (because that’s what women have to be) and in the end she has to be rescued by a man who is wiser and calmer than she is (because women are ruled by their emotions). Yuck. No more Lippman for me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: