Susan Schwartzman

In Laura Lippman’s compelling and provocative psychological thriller, I’d Know You Anywhere, she explores the emotions and thoughts of a serial killer and his victim.

Eliza Benedict is a happily married stay-at-home mother of two living in a D.C. suburb when she is contacted by Walter Bowman, who kidnapped her when she was 15. A serial killer who raped and killed young girls, he now sits on death row and writes to Eliza more than 20 years after he abducted her.

Alternating between the past and the present, Lippman deftly explores the relationship between victim and perpetrator and the impact of the crime on both the victim and the victims’ families. Walter is brilliantly rendered as a disturbingly ruthless and manipulative killer who feels no guilt and rationalizes every one of his crimes to justify his actions. Eliza, who witnessed the murder of Holly, his last victim, is racked with guilt and cannot stop blaming herself for Holly’s murder. Why was she the only victim allowed to live? That question haunts her throughout the novel.

While examining the aftermath of Walter’s crimes and the fallout for all the characters, Lippman also explores the ethical issues surrounding the death penalty. Holly’s parents, who blame Eliza for their daughter’s death, will never feel that justice is done until Walter is executed. Walter’s advocate, who is against the death penalty, pressures Eliza to visit Walter before his execution. Walter, however, has his own motives for wanting to see her one last time.

This powerful novel was inspired by real-life crimes. A serial killer, as in I’d Know You Anywhere, raped and killed his victims—except for one case, according to Lippman, in which the victim, a minor, was allowed to live and witnessed the murder of another victim. Lippman asked herself, “What is it like to be that person?” She probes that question with this riveting, suspenseful page-turner.

 

In Laura Lippman’s compelling and provocative psychological thriller, I’d Know You Anywhere, she explores the emotions and thoughts of a serial killer and his victim. Eliza Benedict is a happily married stay-at-home mother of two living in a D.C. suburb when she is contacted by Walter Bowman, who kidnapped her when she was 15. A […]

If you read only one book this summer, make sure it’s Douglas Kennedy’s Leaving the World. This riveting, poignant page-turner explores how our childhoods affect the choices we make in life, how we make sense of life when tragedy strikes and the randomness of destiny. Kennedy dexterously combines a fast-paced plot with complex characters, provocative themes and difficult moral questions about family, love, loss, betrayal and the impact of the past upon the future.

Jane Howard, the protagonist and narrator, is looking back on her life as the story begins, reflecting on her 13th birthday—a day that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Her parents are vehemently arguing at a Manhattan restaurant, drawing attention to themselves. When they finally pause, Jane tells her father that she’s never getting married and never having children. To her mother’s dismay, she adds, “No one is really happy.” When Jane wakes up the next day, her father is gone.

So begins the downward trajectory of Jane’s life. Her mother blames her daughter for her lot in life. Her father abandons and exploits her. Jane finds temporary happiness in a clandestine, adulterous affair with her Ph.D. mentor that ends tragically. Then she falls in love with Theo, who is erratic, unfaithful and exploitative, just like her father. A child results from their relationship—the one happy consequence of an otherwise disastrous affair.

But when a random accident kills her beloved daughter, Jane leaves her world, fleeing her job, home and friends for a small town in Northwest Canada where no one knows her. Only the disappearance of a young girl gradually draws Jane back into life.

Kennedy explores grief and tragedy with unrelenting intensity, and while the novel’s ending is not quite a happy one, it is nonetheless satisfying. There are no simplistic answers to life’s random tragedies; while Jane temporarily leaves the world, she re-enters it knowing she has no other choice but to do so.

Kennedy has been a staple on international bestseller lists for years, and his books have sold millions of copies worldwide. But Kennedy hasn’t had a U.S. publisher in more than 10 years. Time magazine said, “[Kennedy] may be the most successful American novelist America doesn’t know.” The publication of Leaving the World should no doubt change that.

If you read only one book this summer, make sure it’s Douglas Kennedy’s Leaving the World. This riveting, poignant page-turner explores how our childhoods affect the choices we make in life, how we make sense of life when tragedy strikes and the randomness of destiny. Kennedy dexterously combines a fast-paced plot with complex characters, provocative […]

Beautiful Maria of My Soul is the title of both Oscar Hijuelos’ new novel and the song Nestor Castillo writes about his lost love in Hijuelos’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

This new novel, a sequel of sorts to The Mambo Kings, revisits the story of Nestor’s brief but impassioned love affair with the beautiful Maria, told this time from Maria’s perspective. Maria, devastated by the deaths of her mother and beloved sister, flees the bucolic Cuban countryside of her childhood for a better life in Havana. It is the pre-Castro days, and Havana is a vibrant city filled with a nightlife that never seems to end. Maria quickly finds work as a dancer and becomes the mistress of Ignatio, an alleged mobster.

Nestor, an unwitting witness to a public fight between Ignatio and Maria, comes to her rescue, and they soon fall passionately in love. When Nestor proposes marriage, an opportunistic Maria makes a choice she comes to regret. Faced with the irony of her decision after Castro takes over Cuba, Maria flees her beloved homeland for America with her only child, Teresita, in tow.

Hijuelos’ portrayal of the mother-daughter conflicts between Maria and Teresita is spot on. As different from her mother as she can be, Teresita rejects Maria’s flamboyant lifestyle for a more solitary, intellectual life, ignoring her mother’s prodding to find a “novio” and get married. The ending’s clever twist leaves the door open for yet another sequel.

An affecting portrait of broken dreams and regret, hope and despair, rediscovery and renewal, Beautiful Maria ties up the loose ends of a love story that died with Nestor in The Mambo Kings, but is still very much alive in the heart and soul of his song, “Beautiful Maria.”

 

Beautiful Maria of My Soul is the title of both Oscar Hijuelos’ new novel and the song Nestor Castillo writes about his lost love in Hijuelos’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. This new novel, a sequel of sorts to The Mambo Kings, revisits the story of Nestor’s brief but impassioned […]

Louisa May Alcott became famous for her well-loved classic, Little Women, but her success as an author did not happen overnight. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a bittersweet, stirring debut novel byKelly O’Connor McNees, explores the possibility that Alcott, who wrote so passionately about romantic relationships, did in fact have an affair of her own and that her success as a novelist came at a high price.

The novel was sparked by a quote from Julian Hawthorne, the son of Nathaniel Hawthorne and neighbor of the Alcotts, who speculated that Alcott could not have written so compellingly about romantic love in her novels had she not experienced it herself. “Did she ever have a love affair?” Hawthorne asked. “We never knew. Yet how could a nature so imaginative, romantic and passionate escape it?” McNees speculates that Alcott burned many of her letters not only to protect her privacy, but to “erase all traces” of her love affair.

Deftly blending fact and fiction, McNees imagines an affair that could have taken place during the summer Alcott and her family spent in Wolcott, New Hampshire in 1855—one that would have threatened Alcott’s writing career and perhaps inspired the story of Jo and Laurie in Little Women.

Alcott’s father’s transcendentalist friends, Emerson and Thoreau, influenced her childhood, but his philosophical beliefs brought the family to the brink of financial ruin—motivating Alcott to earn a living as a writer and be free from her family’s financial struggles.

Alcott is initially unmoved by Joseph Singer, her fictional lover who owns a dry goods store in town, until he gives her a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Swept up in a passionate love affair once he makes his feelings clear, she discovers a devastating truth that may prevent the lovers from marrying. Soon after, Alcott makes a difficult choice that will forever change the course of the lovers’ lives.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott reverberates from a time when women’s options were few. Alcott’s yearning to be a writer and an independent woman made her an anomaly in her day, when the prospect of marriage to a man of means was considered de rigeur. Even if readers have never read Little Women, they will enjoy this historical novel—a compelling, heart-wrenching story about the difficult choices women face. It resonates with themes that are as timely today as they were in Alcott’s day.

 

RELATED CONTENT
Read our interview with Kelly O'Connor McNees about The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Read our review of Harriet Reisen's Louisa May Alcott biography

Watch the trailer for the novel

Louisa May Alcott became famous for her well-loved classic, Little Women, but her success as an author did not happen overnight. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a bittersweet, stirring debut novel byKelly O’Connor McNees, explores the possibility that Alcott, who wrote so passionately about romantic relationships, did in fact have an affair of […]

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