Review: I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

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How did I get it: I got the audio book from the library although I ended up reading the last few chapters at Borders today.

Why did I get it: The cover looked intriging but it was incredibly misleading. The audio book also recieved high praise from various review periodicals.

How would I rate it: 3 out of 5 stars.

My Summary:
Eliza Benedict, born Elizabeth Learner, spent the summer of her fifteenth year with Walter Boman, a killer/rapist who abducted her. She was his only surviving victim. Years later she is happily married with two children, but Walter Bowman has left a deep impression on her which makes the letter she recieves even more disturbing. To make matters worse the letter needs to other letters and to phone calls, all of the summoing up ghosts of dead girls and unpleasant recollections of her past actions and non-actions that she’s tried to keep buried for over twenty years.

My Review:
(Caution: This section includes mild spoilers of events throughout the book but nothing in regards to the ultimate outcome near its close.)

The only reason this book got three stars instead of 1 and a half from me is that Lippman is a remarkable writer and I loved the first few parts of this book. Besides, whether or not I like what her book amounted to, I couldn’t help but to admire her effort here. Along those lines, Linda Emond is a gifted narrator and really did a wonderful job making these characters and their voices unique and distinct. 

Sadly not voice nor framework nor lush details could make up for what this book lacked in terms of substance. I also feel that the book continually hinted and teased at some dark secret or plot twist, and what the author offered up instead was such a cop out that I felt incredibly cheated and pretty upset when I was done with this book. In fact the big reveal for this book is so incredibly lack-lustre and uninspiring that I can’t imagine it’s made many readers or listeners very happy. I am also fairly certain that I would not have gotten very far without having listened mainly to the audio book.

The first few sections were by far the most solid and satisfying moving from the past to the present, family and abduction, safety and terror with the view switching from Eliza to Walter to Eliza again with an exciting, easy flow. Had the book remained that way, I swear this would have been a 5 star review.

But tragically and very suddenly, the dynamic changed and no longer was the book about Eliza and Walter but it was suddenly about a bunch of nasty people I didn’t want to hear about. After that hppened, nothing was ever the same for me as a listener, leaving the book as a whole to suffer from a lack of focus and ultimately a point. Too many voices drift in and drift out as if sections of the book only to disappear with none of their stories finished while the vastly more intriguing minor characters, particularly Eliza’s family, remained forever just out of reach and eventually shoved completely out of the picture for no good reason.

By the third or fourth part, it’s clear this is based on newspaper gleanings or real world events that would have only amounted to a short story but instead has been forced into being a novel. The result is instead of being a short bit of fiction with meat on its bones, I’d Know You Anywhere is more like a bleached white carcass lying in the desert, its skeletal remains picked clean by vultures.

In the final sections, the lush details seemed to have fallen to the wayside and so has Eliza’s issues with her troubled teenaged daughter which was actually a really fascinating subplot. Meanwhile, the character of Walter Bowman was interesting for awhile and at the same time became less and less as the story progressed. I was disturbed to find that of all the characters in this novel, he was the only one who ultimately understood himself and grew as a person.

The fact that his understanding and self-awareness was obviously riddled with flaws was roughly the same as every other character’s in this book. He was a very bland killer as killers go, lacking charisma or intensity which was, no doubt, an effort to make him seem more human, but the fact is no one in this book was mostly either tepid, horrible, perfect, or regulated to the perifory.  

No one argued for long, no conflicts were really addressed, no conflicts were allowed to resolve even a little, no one fought for anything they believed on any level, and no one was ever willing to completely challenge another’s perception of the truth outside of two women who basically were made into such harpies that it was pretty obvious that having strong opinions was only for bitter women with nothing left to lose. A rather disgusting sentiment, I think.

And nothing was as dull as Eliza’s reactions in regards to Walter. She feels dread and can’t stand him, but remains friendly and polite to him always. She respectfully disagrees occasionally and reminds him of what happened to her because of him, but I found it sort of incredible that being held for forty days could result in this sort of submissive reaction twenty years later when the man was on death row and Eliza was blessed with a wonderful family and a profound amount of love and support from her husband and parents.

I was, of course, sympathetic to Eliza and what she endured, but much like her sister and several other characters in the novel, I still found her incredibly frustrating. Eliza remains a victim of this man all her life even after being the one with the power to ultimately put him away since her testimony was pivotal in his conviction. I was sad to learn that even once she was well into her adult years, she maintained a passive role her entire life, refusing to let herself be defined by what she suffered which leaves her to be defined by nothing outside of her role as a wife and mother. This would be all right if she excelled at either of these tasks, but she was very passive as a mother too. Her sister sums it up best when she observes that Eliza seems to float through life, refusing to become involved in much of anything.

Eliza did not seem to grow at all and all of her actions were about as bad as her non-actions. Despite her inability to sleep with windows open or let her eight year old son out of her eyesight in their backyard, she doesn’t ever involve the police in the harassment she experiences at the hands of a woman working to free Walter and the mother of one of Walter’s other victims. One of them goes so far as to come into her house and later on says she could have hurt Eliza’s daughter. If that wasn’t bad enough she leaves her son in a Barnes & Noble to attend a meeting with a middle school principal. She also wants to protect her children from learning the truth but doing so means being manipulated by a horrible person and even then it becomes obvious that just about anyone can find her and could tell her children. And even then she doesn’t do anything to protect herself or her family because all she cares about is keeping her children safe from learning the truth.

The author did not need to take sides, obviously. I applaud her effort to make a bleak scenario full of gray rather than black and white, but I don’t think Lippman did me or any other readers any favors by never letting Eliza see things in black and white or be her own champion to any degree.

Of course I appreciated Eliza being such a mess that even she seems unware of just how bad things are getting towards the end of the book, but Eliza needed to at some point take control of something rather than constantly letting things happen to her and waiting for somebody to protect her from those things. Not control of anything large and probably not much of her own life since she didn’t even address Walter, whom she refers to as “her tomentor,” with the ferocity he deserved, but honestly the slightly hint of Eliza moving forward towards the point of dealing with her own problems would have been enough for me. 

As a listener and also as a reader, I needed and deserved to see some glimmer of that possibility before the book ended and never did since even when Eliza makes a decision to open the windows up again by the end of the novel, it’s only if her husband will help her or do it for her.

Ultimately, I feel that Lippman tried so hard to be fair and to allow every character to be right in their self-expression, that she provided the reader with no characters to root for. In this way I can only describe this book and probably Eliza herself as being very much like a very large and lovely remodelled home that has yet to be lived in – pretty on the outside but hollow inside.

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About April

I'm a librarian, reader, and writer whose main goal in life is to be able to swim in books the way Scrooge McDuck swims in money. Although my reading choices will always be wildly eclectic and I never plan on leaving any genre unexplored, my favorite reads tend to be Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Gay Romance, or Historical Fiction. You can e-mail me at inspector[dot]librarian[at]gmail[dot]com.
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