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Home » Books & writing

Book Review: I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman

Submitted by on September 14, 2010 – 10:37 pm 6 Comments

I’m conflicted in writing this review because Laura Lippman is a very skilled writer, someone who can string ordinary words together to create a breathtaking sentence. But her latest novel, I’d Know You Anywhere, frustrated me immensely because I couldn’t find many characters to root for, including the lead.

Eliza Benedict is the former Elizabeth Lerner, who was kidnapped when she was fifteen and held hostage for six weeks by Walter Bowman. Bowman had snatched and killed other girls before Elizabeth and another one while she was with him. Neither is quite sure why he let her live. The book opens twenty-three years later when Eliza (she’d shortened her first name and taken her husband’s last name to avoid attention) receives a letter from Walter, now on death row, claiming he’s sorry and would love to hear from her. She writes back, telling him to not write her, but Walter’s accomplice, a woman who’s against capital punishment, shows up on Eliza’s street and pretty much bullies her into accepting phone calls from Walter. He slowly worms his way back into Eliza’s world and she realizes she must confront him to quiet the ghosts in her head and wrest control of her life.

**MILD SPOILERS**

While I can’t imagine what it’s like to have gone through what Eliza did, I had to repeatedly put down this book because many of her actions, or rather, non-actions, are hard to swallow. I couldn’t understand why she would respond to Walter’s first letter, much less agree to accept collect phone calls from him on a regular basis. Her reasoning is if she ignores him, he’d just continue his attempts to contact her. Well, giving in to him also encourages him to prolong the connection. She even buys a new phone and gets a different number just for Walter because she doesn’t want him to have her regular number. How about not giving him any number at all?

Her sister, Vonnie, painted as brash and self-indulgent, actually nails it on the head when she tells Eliza:

“You let life happen to you….Jesus, if there’s one thing I would have learned from your experience, I think it would be to never let anyone else take control of my life. Instead, you’ve handed yours over. To [your husband] Peter, to the children. And now you’re giving it back to Walter Bowman.”

I don’t fault the teenage Elizabeth for being passive and doing what it took to survive; I have a problem with her remaining so docile as an adult.

Eliza’s passivity is especially alarming when Barbara, the anti-death-penalty woman, is clearly stalking her. Barbara hand-delivers notes from Walter, always knowing where Eliza and her family are, including where her daughter has soccer practice. Besides invading Eliza’s privacy, Barbara is unbearable in her righteousness. I would have gone straight to the police station and filed paperwork requesting a restraining order. But Eliza does nothing, fearing her past would be revealed, that her children would be devastated since they know nothing of her dark secrets. This seems like a reckless decision since protecting them from a killer with an outside accomplice—Walter makes subtle threats against them—should be Eliza’s first priority.

**END SPOILERS**

The only thing that kept me reading is Lippman’s deft prose. She has a way of describing things that’s instantly visceral:

Getting a letter from Walter was like some exiled citizen of New Orleans getting a telegram signed “Katrina.” Hey, how are you? Do you ever think of me? Those were some crazy times, huh?

I also commend Lippman on presenting all sides of the story: Walter’s justification for his actions, Barbara’s crusade against capital punishment, the mother of a dead girl who wants to make sure Walter gets executed, and Eliza’s reasons for communicating with her tormentor. But in Lippman’s attempt to be fair to everyone, she has failed to make any strong statement at all.

Nerd verdict: I don’t care to Know these characters

6 Comments »

  • EIREGO says:

    I know exactly what you mean about being frustrated with lead characters I can’t relate to. This happens with a lot of movies for me these days as well. I have have actually walked out of movies and asked for my money back quite a bit over the last couple of years, which is doubly annoying since I took the time to get there and stood in line to get a ticket. Thankfully, with a book, you can just close the cover.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    I think I alluded to this very thing in my review. I didn’t relate to these characters and I would get frustrated too, thinking, “why are you letting them do this?” But Lippman did stay consistent in Eliza’s character, she just was rather spineless. I, too, found Barbara icky, especially when she conned her way into the house. I think I was caught up more in the psychology behind everything rather than the characters, which is unusual for me. And I got mad at Eliza for how blase she acted about the schools concerns regarding her daughter. Anyway, I find your thoughts very interesting. I think I felt exactly that way about WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. I couldn’t find any characters that I really felt anything for. I didn’t care what happened to them and I figured out the secret long before the end.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      You know what else I was mad about? Eliza leaving her eight-year-old son in a B&N by himself so she could go to Iso’s school. Here’s a woman who was kidnapped as a child; you’d think she’d be extra protective of her children. When I go to B&N with my eight-year-old niece, I don’t let her out of my sight, much less leave her in the store alone and go somewhere else.

      Lippman definitely stayed consistent but I didn’t want Eliza to be consistent—I wanted her to change. The protagonist must go through an arc and be altered by the things happening to him/her. Eliza seemed stuck in the personality she had when she was 15. She did eventually change but it came way too late for me.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    Oh characters should definitely grow. I was meaning more along the lines of those authors who have their characters go through a metamorphosis that is so monumental as to be unbelievable. “I’m a completely self-centered ego-maniac on page 1 and by 150 I’m the world’s greatest philanthropist”-type thing.

  • Eli says:

    Leaving the kid in B&N really bugged me as well. She’s going to a school. Couldn’t the kid have sat on a chair in the hall?

    I was also infuriated by the pushiness of Barbara and Trudy, and how she just let them roll over her.

    Peter was a bit of a cipher. I think the most likeable character was actually Vonnie, because she did call Eliza on her behaviour.

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