I am making a concerted effort this year to make a real dent in the wayward ARCs I’ve accumulated over the past years of blogging. Many certainly don’t deserve to be sitting in a dusty pile, especially one by Laura Lippman, a local journalist and mystery suspense writer. So, what did I think about Sunburn? Well . . .
February 20, 2018
One is playing a long game. But which one?
They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through. Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets.
Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?
Something—or someone—has to give.
Which one will it be?
Although I’ve never read any James M. Cain novels nor seen any of the films based on them, I certainly knew of them in the way a semi-film buff would. My knowledge, mind you not gained first hand, is that a man would fall in love with a woman, who may have not been on the up-and-up, and he would do anything for her. Laura Lippman’s Sunburn had that kind of vibe about it. (It’s only after reading and then looking over materials that I see that I am not the only one who sensed that, with others calling it an “homage.”)
The novel opens with Pauline—Polly—abandoning her husband, Greg, and three-year old child, Janie, at a Delaware Beach in the 1995. She has a plan that will ultimately get her to Nevada but she never makes it and ends up in Belleville, Delaware where she thinks she could fit in just fine. Adam is watching Polly, befriends her in Belleville, despite her skepticism regarding him, and over the course of a summer they fall in love. But what’s Adam’s deal? And, more importantly, what’s Polly’s?
Lippman keeps the reader guessing about a lot of things right up until the very last chapter of the novel that jumps forward to 2017. Considering the excellence of her writing and the shrewd, careful plotting, this should have been an great novel, but instead it gets bogged down as Adam becomes that guy who has fallen in love and keeps tripping over his own shoestrings. I think ultimately, Adam is too nice of a guy to be cast in this book. I seem to remember a scene from James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity in which the man who fell for the femme fatale is extremely tough, hard shelled; he shows no vulnerability. And I think Sunburn needed Adam to be like that rather than the sensitive nice guy that he is (please note that this reviewer actually likes sensitive nice guys but for the sake of this novel sees where the other would be a better fit).
Polly is a more complex character and because of her experiences and some actions certainly can come across as unlikable. But Polly seems to be a magnet that attracts abusive men and much of her later behavior is cause and effect. It’s interesting that so many readers don’t like a woman who suffered abuse and who is just not going to take it anymore and who is doing everything she can to make sure that she and her interests remain safe. She has become manipulative and necessarily shrewd in a world that treats men and women differently, and that is just one nod toward cause and effect.
This is a quick, intriguing read that falls short in one area of being an excellent read.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.