I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE
By Laura Lippman
What happens to the girl who lives through her kidnapping and the murder of other girls? What made her different? How does she put her life back together? How does her family cope? And what happens if she buries it all but the past comes back to try to reclaim her?
These are some of the questions Laura Lippman addresses in her new standalone novel, I'd Know You Anywhere. That these questions are addressed through the action of the story and by what the characters do shows what a strong book this is, even stronger and more subtle than her brilliant last standalone, Life Sentences.
Eliza Benedict has a perfectly beautiful life, glimpsed from the outside. She and her successful, always supportive husband have two wonderful children. She doesn't have to work. Yet from the first scene, Eliza is seen as semi-fretful, as worrying that it's not all perfect, that something might turn sour and go wrong.
Perhaps that's because something in her life went very, very wrong. As a bored teenager who wore Madonna-style clothes in the mid-80s, Elizabeth Lerner went walking to a nearby fast-food place against her parents' rules. Cutting through a state park, she came across a young man with a shovel.
That man, Walter Bowman, was burying his latest victim. He then kidnaps Elizabeth and eventually rapes her. She survives more than two months with him, driving from place to place, Walter doing odd jobs for cash and Elizabeth knowing that at any minute, he could kill her and then go for her family. Walter kidnaps a second girl, a blond beauty who has every gift Elizabeth lacks in looks and charisma. That girl dies and Elizabeth is rescued when a cop pulls Walter over.
More than 20 years later, Walter is running out of time on Death Row. Elizabeth changed her name to Eliza and hopes the world has forgotten her assailant. But he sends her a letter, that he has seen a recent photo of her and her husband in a magazine and that he would know her anywhere. Won't she please write back?
As Walter's execution date nears, the novel goes back and forth between the present and those days when Eliza was kidnapped Elizabeth. This structure serves its purpose well in letting the reader know just what happened back then, and how people who were not there can reasonably come up with their own scenarios. Those people include a death penalty opponent who has made Walter her cause, the parent of a murdered girl and a true crime writer who published a book about Walter's crimes. This structure allows the presence of these characters who were not there to make a strong impact on what happens in the present in a manner that creates extreme suspense.
Even while wondering what is going to happen to Eliza, to Walter, whether Eliza's children will learn about what happened to her and who will tell them, Lippman uses these characters and their situations to delve into many of the questions that accompany such a traumatic event. Over time, how did Elizabeth's kidnap, rape and rescue affect her? How did it affect her family? Can she, or any of her family, forgive Walter? What about other victims and their families? Eliza feels guilty for being the girl who got away, especially as she does not understand how this happened. When others want to accuse her of being Walter's willing lover or accomplice, her hurt is palpably greater than when she was first taken.
Looking at Walter Bowman's crimes through so many different perspectives makes what happened in Lippman's novel seem far more real than the sensational crimes publicized via cable TV and magazine checkout stands. Many types of hurt are acknowledged, but the author makes clear that just because some characters set up dichotomies regarding one hurt counting more than another, that is not true. Being hurt is being hurt. Grief is grief. And a victim is a victim, even if one survives. Because although Lippman is fairly even-handed in drawing the characters, she also makes certain that the focus remains on Eliza/Elizabeth.
Eliza's husband may be a wee bit too perfect, getting the climactic scene set up may take a bit of disbelief suspension, but these are quibbles compared to the way everything else works so well throughout the novel.
Every action a character takes makes perfect sense for that character at that particular time, which is an even more remarkable achievement when different scenarios are presented. Best of all, Lippman takes what could easily be lurid fare and makes it an honest search for answers. And every character is someone that you, too, could very well know anywhere.
© 2010 All Rights Reserved Reviews at CompuServe Books and reprinted with permission