The Novel That Inspired Laura Lippman’s ‘Lady in the Lake’

FROM NEWSPAPERS TO NOVELS

Laura Lippman — whose new novel, “Lady in the Lake,” enters the list at No. 13 — rereads Herman Wouk’s “Marjorie Morningstar” every year, “and yet it was only in early 2017 that I noticed the single most irritating detail in the novel — the Marjorie we see at the end, through the eyes of the long-ago spurned Wally Wronken, is described as looking like a grandmother because of her premature gray hair, much too old for 38-year-old Wally,” she says. “She’s 39! It got me to thinking about how a chance encounter with someone from our past might remind us of all the things we once aspired to be — and how it might inspire us to try again. So I was already thinking about Marjorie, and then my friend Megan Abbott posted these beautiful, eerie photos of old Jewish summer camps on social media, and although I don’t even really believe in signs, I said to myself, ‘That’s it, it’s a sign, my new book is going to be about a Marjorie Morningstar who revives a long dormant dream.’”

[ “My reading life is like an airport where a bunch of planes circle in a holding pattern, then — boom, boom, boom, several come in for a landing,” Laura Lippman said in her By the Book interview. ]

That her Marjorie — a 1960s Baltimore housewife named Maddie Schwartz — ends up working as a crime reporter at a local newspaper is not exactly a surprise, given Lippman’s journalism roots. In fact, the entire novel is a love letter to the newspaper world.

“I hated traveling in packs as a journalist, not because I’m a lone wolf but because it seemed unlikely to me that I’d get the best story with so many other reporters jostling for access,” Lippman explains. “So I’d take a beat that was considered a bit of a cul-de-sac — poverty, for example, or ‘social services’ as it was called at The Baltimore Sun — and play happily by myself. And when I was a features reporter, I loved to do oddball quotidian stories — a woman selling her wedding dress through the classifieds, a guy buying an engagement ring on Christmas Eve, the last day of school as seen through the eyes of a specific little boy. One story I loved writing was on the retirement of a waitress at a beloved midtown diner, The Bridge.” In fact, she says, “It would have been totally in my wheelhouse to write profiles of many of the characters in ‘Lady.’”

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