My Life as a Villainess, Essays by Laura Lippman
reviewed by Terri Mork Speirs, April 2021
File this in “What I’m reading now.”
Or, “Indulging in my love of Laura Lippman.”
Or, “On beauty and aging.”
Or, “Laughing and self-awareness are good medicine.”
The funny thing about the title of this book is that the author, Laura Lippman, is just another ordinary aging woman – who happens to write about villain-esque women. Her popular psychological thrillers are great summer beach reading, winter recliner reading, weekend chores audio reading, or road trip radio reading. But her characters aren’t really villains, I’d say. They are typically women trying to make their way through impossible situations, and refusing to enter the “women be likeable” trap. Fiction based on truths. Her writing goes right into the villainess’ brains, and the brains of those in their lives. Like deep inside the folds of their reasoning, even to their reptilian parts. The action is the thinking. The thrill is how much we can relate, though we’d rather not admit to it.
However, this review isn’t about Laura Lippman’s fiction. It’s about her book of personal essays which by definition is nonfiction. Personal essays are like short memoir pieces, and if you know me you know that memoir is my favorite genre because it involves reflection of one’s life. Contrary to pop belief, memoir is not about an interesting life – it is about introspection. Memoir seeks to deconstruct and understand one’s self. I’d say the least so-called fascinating lives, make for the best memoirs. Because the most interesting parts of all of us is what happens inside of us.
That’s why I believe that a good personal essay or memoir can be a path to hope and healing. The reader learns they are not alone. For example in this collection Laura Lipman reflects on aging, body image, dieting, looks, and the endless demands on women’s appearance. Laura Lippman admits at age 60 – sixty! – she is still angsting on these things. If you are a female of any age or status who has ever walked through a grocery store magazine rack in the U.S. A., chances are you too angst on looks. We relate, even as we know it’s silly. The reader laughs because self-awareness can be funny. We also know the expectations for women are devastating. And then Laura Lippman brings it home and declares enough of all that. She declares herself gorgeous. Since her self-proclaimed declaration of gorgeousness, she says, she finds all women gorgeous.
The first essay in the collection, “Game of Crones” (ha! ha!), where Laura Lippman reflects on being an older mother, closes as such (language alert):
And maybe the next time — there’s always a next time, trust me — someone says, “Are you her grandmother?” I’ll say: “No I’m her great-grandmother, I’m eighty-(bleeping)-seven, but I look amazing for my age.”
I am old. I am 60. I am a 60-year-old woman with a third-grader. I am old. I am old. I am old. I am 60, my daughter is 8, and I will let her write the end of the story. What other choice do I have?
Hope and healing comes in many forms. Counseling. Education. Reading. Writing. Laughing. Sometimes hope and healing comes in the form of a pill as prescribed by a competent and wonderful medication provider. (For me, checkmark yes to all.) And sometimes it comes the realization that you don’t need to be fixed because you are enough. And you are gorgeous per my personal declaration, modeling Laura Lippman.
What are you reading now?