Monday, April 30, 2018

Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of over a dozen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.

Goodman's latest novel is The Other Mother.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Goodman's reply:
I’ve long been a fan of Laura Lippman’s books—both her realistic and gritty Tess Monaghan series and her psychologically astute stand-alones—so I had high expectations for her latest Sunburn. My expectations were exceeded.

Lippman has called her book her “Cain homage,” and it indeed has the mood and set-up of James M. Cain’s first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice. Two drifters meet at a roadside diner, sparks fly—and not just from the grill—suspicions follow … and murder. Lippman deftly evokes the mood of noir: the sultry heat of cheap motels and boarding houses, the neon glow of a jukebox, sunsets over flat cornfields, a redhead in a sundress with sunburnt shoulders. It’s as if she’s laying tinder for a fire. But she does much more.

Reading Sunburn sent me back to Cain and the books and films Postman inspired with its triangle between older husband, seductress wife, and semi-innocent/semi-hapless young man. The 1981 Lawrence Kasdan film Body Heat captured the lust and distrust, turning the Lana Turner heroine into a more knowing and wily Kathleen Turner. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina gives the lethal triangle a sci-fi twist by turning the seductress into an A.I. But while both these works give more depth to the female character, they still preference the male and his riveted gaze on the female. Lippman gives voice to both the man and the woman. In alternating close third person narrations, we’re privy to Adam’s and Polly’s thoughts (and a few other characters as well) even if the two of them are so guarded that it takes some time for us to learn what they’re keeping from each other. We learn that Polly has escaped not one, but two, abusive marriages, once by murder, once by flight—as if she has already enacted all the options given to femme fatales in the genre. What’s left for her then? Will she be able to trust and love a man like Adam? Will Adam fare any better than his genre predecessors?

I won’t say, but I can assure you we’re in good hands with Laura Lippman. Like Adam in the kitchen (who makes a grilled cheese so appealing I had to follow his recipe twice while reading this) she doesn’t cut corners. Adam and Polly may be trapped by their circumstances, but they’re not trapped by genre-prototypes. They’re complicated, three-dimensional human beings. Adam’s a man whose passions might lead him to walk away from a job; but not from his better nature. And in Polly, Lippman has given agency to the femme fatale without turning her into a monster—a feat as delicate and satisfying as making the perfect grilled cheese.
Visit Carol Goodman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue