“Lady in the Lake”

“Lady in the Lake” by Laura Lippman opens with an unusual narrative that sets up the story in a compelling way.

“1964 God knows, my death has changed me. Alive, I was Cleo Sherwood. Dead, I became the Lady in the Lake, a nasty broken thing, dragged from the fountain after steeping there for months,”

This book is not really the story of “The lady in the lake,” but of Maddie Schwartz, the woman who found her and gave her that name. Maddie lived in Baltimore, embracing the Jewish family traditions and cultural norms of the time. She was good at entertaining and took particular pride in her ability to throw together a dinner party with almost no warning. Every day, Maddie was a little less beautiful than she had been the day before. Every moment she lived, she also was dying.

Maddie was a woman in search of an identity. She had a brain, but it had almost atrophied from lack of use, and she wanted to use it. Readers follow her struggle for identity, growth, and self-assurance for just over one year, from October 1965 through November 1966. Feelings, comments, and attitudes  reflect the societal norms of the times. This is the foundation of the book, but there is more, much more to this story.

Maddie’s acquaintances saw a peculiarity. “I don’t know what it is about you and dead people, Maddie, but it’s getting out of hand. Can’t you find another way to get ahead?”

Alternate chapters set this story apart from a traditional narrative and each chapter identifies the speaker.  Maddie Schwartz ties all these people together; they all fall within her sphere of influence. They interact with her; they have some connection to her. These chapters tell the story in the first person present tense, as if characters are speaking to an unseen interrogator, speaking directly to the reader, and telling their version of events. Readers get to know the participants, what they think and how they feel about themselves and others. The exceptions, of course, are the conversations of “The lady in the Lake” herself; she speaks to readers but she mostly talks to Maddie Schwartz.

Mattie exemplifies  motivation for writers of mysteries, “How many larger crimes lurked in the city’s petty complaints?”

I received a copy of “Lady in the Lake” from Laura Lippman and HarperCollins Publishers. Its exceptional narrative organization and plot structure make it a favorite for readers.  It captured my attention of and drew me into the story until the very unusual and surprising end.

“I’m painting a picture of myself painting a picture of myself painting a picture of myself. The picture goes on and on, the words go on and on, until they make no sense, until the picture is so tiny that you can’t see anything at all. “

2 thoughts on ““Lady in the Lake”

  1. I loved it. The structure of the narrative really enhances the novel. The “present tense” passages are almost like police reports. The ending is a big surprise.


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