Laura Lippman’s Evasive Meta-novel Dream Girl

On the back of the title pages of most current works of fiction appears “Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination [ . . .] and are not to be construed as real.” If read at all, this language is thought of as legal boilerplate and ignored. But this is the theme of Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl. Gerry Andersen, an injured bedridden novelist, has written a highly successful novel Dream Girl, not coincidentally also Lippman’s title, which he believes and strenuously asserts is entirely his own creative imagination. But he gets threatening messages from someone who claims to be the basis of the title character. On the level of fiction Dream Girl evades resolving whether that someone really is the basis for the Dream Girl character. On the level of meta-fictional Lippman’s Dream Girl explores artistic creativity: how much of a fiction writer’s work is pure imagination and how much is based on reality (as “reality” might be variously conceived)? But this paper is also reader-response criticism: curious readers want to know the ontogenic basis of creativity—or create their own version of it.
DISCLOSURE/NON-SPOILER: Dream Girl is mystery fiction, so I can’t reveal too much about the plot, which has many unexpected moments. However, Dream Girl is also evasive on the meta-critical level. Lippman does provide an Author’s Note at the end where she says Gerry Andersen is a pure fiction of hers. But Lippman is best known for her series detective, Tess Monahan, who shares some similarities with Lippman. Lippman provokes, but evades, what curious readers want to know: how much of Monahan is Lippman? To generalize, readers of all, well most, fiction want to know and decide for themselves what is “to be construed as real.” There is good reason for that legal boilerplate.

Author: Eric Hyman