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The Novel That Inspired Laura Lippman’s ‘Lady in the Lake’

  • Jessi
  • August 5, 2019
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The Novel That Inspired Laura Lippman’s ‘Lady in the Lake’

Book Review|The Novel That Inspired Laura Lippman’s ‘Lady in the Lake’

Inside the List

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CreditCreditSonny Figueroa/The New York Times

FROM NEWSPAPERS TO NOVELS

Laura Lippman — whose new novel, “Lady in the Lake,” enters the list at No. 13 — rereads Herman Wouk’s “Marjorie Morningstar” every year, “and yet it was only in early 2017 that I noticed the single most irritating detail in the novel — the Marjorie we see at the end, through the eyes of the long-ago spurned Wally Wronken, is described as looking like a grandmother because of her premature gray hair, much too old for 38-year-old Wally,” she says. “She’s 39! It got me to thinking about how a chance encounter with someone from our past might remind us of all the things we once aspired to be — and how it might inspire us to try again. So I was already thinking about Marjorie, and then my friend Megan Abbott posted these beautiful, eerie photos of old Jewish summer camps on social media, and although I don’t even really believe in signs, I said to myself, ‘That’s it, it’s a sign, my new book is going to be about a Marjorie Morningstar who revives a long dormant dream.’”

[ “My reading life is like an airport where a bunch of planes circle in a holding pattern, then — boom, boom, boom, several come in for a landing,” Laura Lippman said in her By the Book interview. ]

That her Marjorie — a 1960s Baltimore housewife named Maddie Schwartz — ends up working as a crime reporter at a local newspaper is not exactly a surprise, given Lippman’s journalism roots. In fact, the entire novel is a love letter to the newspaper world.

“I hated traveling in packs as a journalist, not because I’m a lone wolf but because it seemed unlikely to me that I’d get the best story with so many other reporters jostling for access,” Lippman explains. “So I’d take a beat that was considered a bit of a cul-de-sac — poverty, for example, or ‘social services’ as it was called at The Baltimore Sun — and play happily by myself. And when I was a features reporter, I loved to do oddball quotidian stories — a woman selling her wedding dress through the classifieds, a guy buying an engagement ring on Christmas Eve, the last day of school as seen through the eyes of a specific little boy. One story I loved writing was on the retirement of a waitress at a beloved midtown diner, The Bridge.” In fact, she says, “It would have been totally in my wheelhouse to write profiles of many of the characters in ‘Lady.’”

“Lady in the Lake” is dedicated to the five journalists slain at The Capital Gazette. “I finished an editor-ready draft on June 27, 2018, and my friend Rob Hiaasen was killed the next day, along with his four colleagues,” Lippman says. “And there I was with a newspaper novel that had not yet been dedicated to anyone.” She told NPR recently, “I believe that rhetoric matters, and I do believe, in a sense, that Rob and his four colleagues were victims … in this increasing war against media.”

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