That's what last night was like, after reading Laura Lippman's 2010 crime novel, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. I thought I'd finished the book earlier in the evening -- well, I had, and rapidly, because the tension rose to the point where I couldn't pay attention to anything except what would happen to Eliza Benedict. A woman with nearly twenty years of compatible, mostly enjoyable marriage, and with a teenage daughter and younger son, her skin is thinner than anyone who doesn't know her would expect. It's because of what's inside her: a good person, but also the fifteen-year-old self that she once was, abducted, raped, terrorized for forty-nine days, by Walter Bowman -- a man about to finally be executed, living on Death Row within a day's drive of Eliza.
Against the odds, Walter has tracked her down and sent her a letter. His death sentence is for the killing of another girl, a death that Eliza -- back then, Elizabeth Lerner -- witnessed. But he killed at least two others, maybe more. Eliza is the one who survived. And it's this strangeness in her life, the unanswered question of why she is alive, that Walter uses to slowly lure her toward a visit to him in the prison.
Lippman is utterly convincing in the long route that it takes for Eliza to pull apart the safety netting of her life and approach the black hole of her past. A "good child" who was easily frightened by the threat of death and violent rape -- dear heaven, aren't we all? -- she gradually gathers strength to finally be able to confront Walter:
"If anyone brainwashed me, it was you," she said. "You intimidated me to the point that you could trust me to do anything. I was scared all the time. ... So scared that I didn't try to get away from you, no matter how many chances I had."But Walter wants more than another chance to frighten her. And his manipulative need for Eliza's words is burning her at the very moment when her daughter needs her to see clearly, to be a "good parent," not a good child.
All night, images of the years-ago recovery of abduction victim Elizabeth Smart dogged me -- as well as those of veiled women in northern India, dependent on their husbands for the leftovers from dinner (I didn't make that up, I read it in a Heifer report). I flailed among dreams, re-fighting the book's premise. I woke with the taste of it in my mouth.
And that, I have to say, is the ultimate proof of the fine writing that Lippman provides: She not only presents characters and situations that convince; she convinces a willing reader that these stresses and forces exist in ourselves. And if Eliza can find a core of certainly and resistance -- so can we.