Book Review: Sunburn, by Laura Lippman

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By Jess Ward, Staff Writer

In a rundown bar off the highway in Belleville, Delaware, a woman spends her summer dancing around her past and entwining it with that of a stranger. It’s this backdrop that Laura Lippman sets her novel, Sunburn, an exploration of personal histories and the way they shape our future. Lippman forces the readers to examine themselves and, more importantly, the version of themselves they hide from the life around them.  

Polly, the protagonist, leaves her husband and child at a beach during vacation and flees to a nearby town. It is there that she crosses paths with Adam, a stranger who’s just passing through. They both decide to stick around, unsure of the other’s reasons, and work at the bar they met at. As months pass, the two become a part of one another, building their days around each other’s presence. Polly wonders at the appearance of a kind and respectful man; yet, she feels compelled to keep something from him.

As Polly covers her tracks and remains aloof, Adam hides his intentions for being in Belleville. He is working as a private investigator, hired by an insurance salesman named Irving, to track down “Pauline Ditmars,” also known as Polly. His boss has accused her of murder, insurance fraud and child abandonment; yet, he falls in love with her through the kitchen window, watching her serve regulars and tourists as he perfects her favorite grilled cheese. How could the delicate, intelligent woman in front of him be the sociopath Irving claims her to be?

Sunburn is a portrayal of a brutal truth; as Lippman writes, “how many times is a woman allowed to defend herself? In Polly’s experience, not even once.” Throughout the novel, the truth evolves with each page, layers of existence revealed as the characters unfold. Through all angles, the reader is given the opportunity to discover not only the truth, but the ways in which they hide the truth from themselves. A brilliant and satisfying plot, Sunburn was truly hard to put down.

If you have any books you want to see reviewed, suggestions can be sent to [email protected] For those who want to read along, I will be reviewing Brittany Cooper’s Eloquent Rage next week.

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