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.