Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Most Dangerous Thing, by Laura Lippman

Lippman takes "thrillers" in a different direction. I don't know if it's even fair to describe this book as a member of any genre, really.

A group of five young people find each other. There are two girls and three boys, the three boys all brothers and the two girls friends. They do a lot of exploring together, and one day happen upon a shack far from anywhere, and learn that an old black man lives there. They make his acquaintance and visit him from time to time. He lives on handouts and they manage to slip food from their homes to bring to him.

One day it all changes. One of the girls, Gwen, gets together with one of the brothers, Sean, and the group breaks apart. The two take to the shed from time to time to make out, when "Chicken George" - their name for the old black man - is not there. One evening the youngest boy, Gordon, is not home for supper on time and fathers head out to look for him. They come upon Gordon and Mickey (the other girl) running from the shack, and Chicken George lying on the ground. They tell the adults that George had molested Gordon and they knocked him down.

This much we learn fairly early on.

This much the group carries around with it, as do the fathers involved. We, the readers, know there is something more, but what it is we do not know. Gordon was always a fuck-up, from an early age. He becomes an alcoholic and ultimately kills himself, and this is when it really begins. But it's not really a rerun of "The Big Chill". Chapter by chapter we get to know the different friends a bit more and we get to know little bits more about their time together and apart. And in the end we do learn the secret. I won't tell.

 I had some trouble liking the characters, got a bit impatient at times, but kept reading and as the book started closing in it started to grab me. I had trouble putting it down and kept thinking about it when I was not reading it. It's really more an exploration of character than of a particular event. We can't trust Lippman to bring us out safely, which is one of the intriguing things about her.