Dream Girl Nightmare

Trapped in bed after a bad fall.

At the mercy of your nurse and your assistant.

Out of it because of all the pain meds and the Ambien. It was a really bad fall.

Wondering if you’re losing your mind or if it’s just the drugs.

This is the setting for Laura Lippman’s celebrated novel Dream Girl.

Just thinking about a situation like that makes me feel claustrophobic. You might want to pop a Xanax before reading.

Gerry is the bed-ridden protagonist, a celebrated author who hit it big with his own book Dream Girl. Professor of creative writing. Single White Male. Three ex-wives. Entitled, smart, egotistical.

It was a slow start but the back and forth of Gerry’s past history to present day kept me interested. Just as you’re wondering where is this thing going the book sort of blossoms. Selective things are revealed, little peeks into Gerry’s past, and suddenly you’re all in.

Gerry can’t figure out what’s going on. He’s getting calls from his Dream Girl – someone claiming to be the main character of his novel is harassing him. She says she knows “what he did” and threatens to tell.

He knows this can’t be real and it’s driving him mad. He goes through all his exes in his mind, remembering their shared past, considering their potential as his stalker. His most recent girlfriend can’t / won’t accept that they’re no longer a couple. She’s crazy but is it her?

Here’s a funny thing: while I enjoyed reading Dream Girl and recommend it, I didn’t like any of the characters. Not a single one!

Maybe it’s because the story and characters are timely and a mirror to who we are. Me Too, Trump, confused white guys, entitlement – Lippman nails all of it.

Some novels immediately remind you of others. The obvious comparison is Stephen King’s Misery but my mind went to his The Dark Half instead with its character come to life. But this is no supernatural thriller, the agony and misery are all human. Dream Girl stands alone, with its clever, twisted, cynical plot. I gasped at one revealing scene toward the end. Literally gasped, how often does that happen when you’re reading a book?

Lippman name drops authors here and there and when she listed Westlake as one of the authors Gerry read (along with Hiaasen and Leonard) – three crime writers who, he thought, could surely construct a story around his predicament and get him out of it – that sealed it for me. I’m a fan of anyone who is a fan of Donald E. Westlake.

Dream Girl was a fun but also sobering way to start the new year. It’s going to make you think. Maybe about your own vulnerability and mortality. Maybe about equality and entitlement. Maybe about relationships and past mistakes. It’s a smart, modern novel to put on your reading list for 2022.

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