The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
Lippman may be living in New Orleans, but she's still keeping her stories close to home
Published: September 28, 2011
The Most Dangerous Thing
By Laura Lippman
William Morrow, hardcover
Though Laura Lippman is now based in New Orleans—her husband, David Simon of The Wire, is there working on Treme, his latest HBO show about a troubled city—she’s still keeping her stories close to home. Her latest standalone, The Most Dangerous Thing, is, according to her acknowledgments in the back of the book, her “most autobiographical novel.”
Set in Dickeyville, a Baltimore neighborhood bordering Leakin Park, the novel opens with the grown-up and alcoholic Go-Go (or Gordon), the youngest of a group of teenagers who shared a summer over 30 years before, and his last night of drinking too much, feeling like a fuck-up, and driving his car into the Jersey wall near his mother’s house, where he’s been staying since his divorce.
After Go-Go’s death, the surviving four long-ago friends realize the past might catch up with them. The novel jumps between past events and present aftershocks, and it’s really about the once-chubby Gwen of the rich family and strange modern house, now an editor of a Baltimore style magazine and mother of an adopted daughter and going through her own trial separation.
In 1978, Gwen and Mickey, a poor but confident girl with a hot waitress mom and not-married-to-her-mom “stepdad,” pal around with the brothers Halloran: perfect Sean, unpredictable Tim, and spastic way-younger Go-Go. One stormy night, the five run into trouble in Leakin Park. Where once they killed time walking and trying not to land in creeks, an old black man they call “Chicken George” who lives in a shed, their drinking fathers, and budding sexuality intersect with disastrous results.
Lippman’s language is rich and full of life’s truths and local color, whether she’s writing flashbacks about the kids or, interestingly, their parents. Tim Sr., Sean and Tim’s father, died on Oct. 9, 1996, supposedly during the Orioles’ play-off game with the Yankees. But, writes Lippman, “Doris has no intention of telling [her sons] that the game had ended an hour earlier and that Tim Senior accepted the Orioles’ bad luck philosophically.” Lippman’s sassy P.I. Tess Monaghan also makes an appearance, with baby, natch.
Through most of the book, Lippman’s omniscient narrator uses the pronoun “we,” though it’s never quite clear who the narrator is. It makes almost too much sense when, near the end, it is revealed that the kids never cared to find out who “Chicken George” really was or his real name. This reader felt callous, almost part of that “we,” realizing that she hadn’t cared either. And perhaps the “we” includes Lippman. She contends the story is autobiographical in location only (and we aren’t saying she’s known a “Chicken George”), but maybe Lippman misses Maryland and all its dirty secrets.
> Email Wendy Ward