Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wilde Lake



I read Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman with the GoodReads TuesBookTalk ReadAlongs group.  The only other Lippman novel that I'd read was The Girl in the Green Raincoat, which was the 11th in the author's Tess Monaghan series) and so I really didn't know what to expect as this one was not part of a series.

I hadn't read any reviews of Wilde Lake so the first thing I noticed was the connection to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.  At times Wilde Lake really reminded me of the Austen fanfic I used to read (and write)--the names were altered a bit and the setting modernized, but the characters, their relationships, and basic story arc was all there ready to be tweaked and poked and prodded in the process of exploring the themes that the characters and their story set out.

Lu Brant is Scout--and she tells her story both in the present and remembering when she was a child, mainly a nine-year old when her older brother, AJ, broke his arm.  We learn in flash backs the circumstances that led to the breaking of the arm.  We learn about Lu's and AJ's friendship with the precocious neighbor boy, Neil (i.e., Dill/Truman Capote), and the charges brought against AJ's friend Davey Robinson, an African American accused of a raping a white girl.  Lu is a newly elected state's attorney, following in the footsteps of revered father. The family, of course, has a devoted housekeeper, and Lu even has a chifferobe!

Honestly, I think I would have liked the book better if it wasn't a riff on TKaMB.  I read an interview with Lippman:
How did the idea for this book come to you?Well, it’s a little bit of a convoluted story. It began when the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow story surfaced again. I read a lot, and I thought a lot about it. The conclusion I came to is that as an individual, I was going to believe people who said they were sexually assaulted. I just decided for my own humanity that I would start always at a place of saying, 'Yes, the victim is telling the truth' . . . But then I thought, if you really embrace this idea, how do you deal with the story told in To Kill A Mockingbird? Big disclaimer: I don’t think Tom Robinson is a rapist. He’s clearly innocent. But, I thought, what if you thought of it differently, but not in the pre-Civil Rights era? And where would this story be most interesting? It’s about an African-American man who is handsome and is generally seen as a good person. He is accused of raping a young woman who’s seen from being from the other side of the tracks, not as being a particularly well-thought-of member of society . . . I thought about the era in which I grew up, and the place I went to high school, and I began thinking, 'This is a story that really fits Columbia in the 1970s.' I took that and I ran with it...It was probably between April and May of 2014 when I started writing this book, and I can usually write a book in about 11 months. 
That's all well and good, but I have to wonder if the discovery of Lee's Go Set a Watchman and the resultant controversy that was bubbling in 2014 before the book was published in 2015 wasn't wasn't also a factor in the development of the story.  Without being too cynical, I have to wonder whether Lippman didn't think that perhaps she could provide a sequel to TKaMB too, because that's essentially what Wilde Lake is.

As a mystery it was okay--and I never really liked any of the characters and didn't feel invested in their story.  In a way, it seemed as if Lippman was intent on showing that all good, heroic people have a dark underbelly.  Maybe I just resented the characters I loved in TKaMB being treated so disrespectfully.  Sort of the way I felt when Kevin Sullivan trashed Anne and Gilbert in his final Anne of Green Gables movie.

The best thing about Wilde Lake was the nostalgia I felt for the flashbacks to the 70's.  I started junior high in the fall of 1970 and graduated from college in the spring of 1980, so I definitely enjoyed the trip down memory lane when Lu was remembering the time when she was a child and AJ was a teenager.  I also enjoyed learning about the planned community of Wilde Lake, which is a real place in Columbia, Maryland. That bit of social history was interesting, and I think a novel set in the time/place is a great premise.  But the TKaMB foundation undermined the whole book for me.



14 comments:

  1. I think I'd just rather read the real To Kill a Mockingbird; this doesn't sound like it has much to offer. And the other is such a classic!

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  2. I've tried to read two of her books, and I just can't get into her style.

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  3. It seems unusual that a style reminiscent of Jane Austen would be matched to a plot like this.

    Based on your commentary it seems like the book falls mostly flat however.

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    1. I didn't mean the style was like Austen's but rather the book read like fanfic to me, and Austen fanfic is the one kind I've read.

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  4. Hadn't heard of the TKaM connection before, but it makes me want to skip the book. I loved What the Dead Know...her only standalone I've read. Also enjoyed The Girl in the Green Raincoat, but felt like I was missing a lot of background by jumping into the series so late. Baltimore Blues in waiting on my kindle.

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  5. I still have to finish the book. Great review, Jane. I'm enjoying it and I guess I'm not seeing a huge connection with TKaMB, as I've never read the book (shocking, I know). I saw the film, of course, but I'm sure the book is different and much better. I also appreciated the nostalgia from the 70s.

    Would you mind posting your review, or an excerpt and a link back here, in the discussion thread in the group. I want the publicist who provided us with the books to know that we did read it. lol Thanks!

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  6. I agree from your analysis that Lippmann could have been a bit more forthcoming about how she came to the story and the characters. I ready TKaMB as an adult and maybe that is why I don't feel protective of either the books or its characters, however, in particular because it is pretty clear that TKaMB is from a child's idolizing perspective.

    I rarely read crime novels anymore, but I have read Lippman's What the Dead Know and thought it was really great. I also read To The Power of Three and liked it.

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  7. I read the first 70 pages or so of Wilde Lake and simply did not like it. The characters and the story didn't hold my interest one iota. I was expecting, I think perhaps of the hype and the starred review (was it Library Journal or PW?), that I would at the least be entertained or held in suspense, but I wasn't, so back to the library it went.

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  8. I'm going to call this one a pass, I think.

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  9. I can see where a novel riffing on TKAMB could undermine liking it. I read both of Harper Lee's books last year and I don't think I want to go there again. They are fine as they are. That being said: I am enjoying the novel Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld at the moment which is a modern riff on Pride & Prejudice so who's to say books like this can't be done.

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  10. I really enjoyed the book. I did feel like it had shades of To Kill A Mockingbird, but I thought it was enough of its own story to stand on its own and keep me entertained. I love Lippmann's novels.

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  11. I really enjoyed the book. I did feel like it had shades of To Kill A Mockingbird, but I thought it was enough of its own story to stand on its own and keep me entertained. I love Lippmann's novels.

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  12. I tried to read To Kill a Mockingbird too young and never reread it so I missed all those references (surprised at myself now). I like Lippmann's books but hated the ending of this one. Note: the name of Nita's family is a tribute to the Katie Rose books by Lenora Mattingly Weber (you must have read all her books with Denver setting).

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    1. I've never heard of Lenora Mattingly Weber, but I just read about her and now have to read some of her Denver-based books.

      It's never too late to read To Kill a Mockingbird :)

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