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'Dream Girl': Twisty yarn of a novelist's nightmare

"Dream Girl" is the 26th novel by Laura

"Dream Girl" is the 26th novel by Laura Lippman, and her first in the horror genre. Credit: William Morrow

DREAM GIRL by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, 310 pp., $28.99)

Gerald Andersen is satisfied with his career as a novelist. Indeed, he’s pretty satisfied with everything about himself.

But one question he gets from his adoring readers bugs him: Who was the real person who inspired Aubrey McFate, the enchanting title character in his most successful book, "Dream Girl"?

No one, he always says, even though he knows that "readers hated being told that anything in fiction wasn’t real." She’s a pure product of his imagination, and it puts his nose out of joint every time someone insinuates he couldn’t possibly have created so convincing a female character.

Then Aubrey starts calling him on the phone.

That’s just one of Gerry’s rapidly escalating problems in "Dream Girl" — not his novel but the 26th one from bestselling mystery writer Laura Lippman. And with "Dream Girl" she makes her first foray into horror.At 61, Gerry has moved from Manhattan back to Baltimore, his hometown (and Lippman’s), to care for his mother, who suffered from dementia. After she dies, he decides to stay awhile, hoping new surroundings will help him get going on a stalled novel and get distance from a recent breakup with a glamorous "shakedown queen" named Margot.

That plan is upended, as is he, when he slips on the distressed concrete floor, trips over a rowing machine and tumbles down a floating staircase. Between his many injuries and a heavy-duty regimen of pain and sleeping meds, Gerry is close to helpless, perched in the living room of his condo with one window on the outside world.His care falls in the daytime to his assistant, Victoria, a woman in her 20s whom Gerry likes because she’s unambitious.

"Dream Girl" is a nod to Stephen King’s horror classic "Misery" as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s "Rear Window." Another work laced through "Dream Girl" is Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol." Just like Scrooge, Gerry revisits his troubled childhood and young adulthood in some chapters. But in Gerry’s dreams, or nightmares, or whatever they might be, the ghosts are less likely to wear robes than #MeToo T-shirts.

Gerry believes himself to be a nice guy, and he certainly doesn’t see himself as a misogynist. But the more time we spend in Gerry’s head, the more we notice. He teaches college writing classes from time to time, and the only female students he notices or remembers are the gorgeous ones. The first of his three failed marriages crashed because his ex was "so jealous." So OK, he had sex with a colleague once. Well, maybe twice. All right, three times.

And what male writer wouldn’t respond to some of those eager female fans? If a woman turns up at your hotel bar and accepts an invitation to your room, she couldn’t possibly have anything on her mind other than consensual sex, right?

Lippman seamlessly weaves all that literary play and feminist satire into a well-crafted horror story as one shock barrels into another, to the wonderfully twisted end.

Look for the final twist in the author’s note.

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