Do you remember reading this Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem in elementary school?
There Was a Little Girl
There was a little girl,As a kid who received my share of parental lectures, it wouldn't occur to me that a parent would kick his or her child off the straight and narrow. As an adult, I know better. Laura Lippman's And When She Was Good, published in August 2012 by Morrow/HarperCollins, is about Helen Lewis, a little girl who doesn't receive much encouragement to be good. In fact, her father, jealous of the idea that Helen would grow up to lead a better life than he does, insists she drop out of school to work when she's 16, even though she's an excellent student. Helen's mother loves the jerk and doesn't make waves. During two subsequent bad relationships with a drug addict, Billy, and a criminal, Val, Helen is discouraged from getting her GED and forced to hide her love of literature. By the time she's self-employed, Helen has changed her name to Heloise. Heloise has discovered that being good doesn't pay the mortgage.
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
Despite the illegality of her job and alienation from other people, Heloise is much like other mothers and professional women in Turner's Grove. Her son is the center of her life. She tries to maintain a civil relationship with his father by visiting him regularly in prison. Al Capone was imprisoned for tax issues and Heloise knows her surest way to attract the law's attention is to run afoul of the IRS. An accountant keeps her financial records and a lawyer is on her payroll. A small travel agency and car service used in her business are actually run as legitimate companies. She tries to cut down on risk of exposure in many ways. Hiring employees is done carefully and screening of clients merits a private investigator. A very elaborate shredding system in her home office is ready to devour her paperwork at the panicked press of a button. Heloise takes good care of her employees. They have a GPS chip in a bracelet they never remove and their location is monitored by Heloise's assistant until the job has ended.
|Laura Lippman photo by Jan Cobb|
It's also much less a story about prostitution than about a woman who can't tell the truth to others or recognize it herself. Heloise reminds me of Kate Moore in Chris Pavone's The Expats. Both are highly competent women who have created a facade of lies about themselves and then face events that threaten to blow up their lives in their faces. Literally. Each woman only thinks she knows that not everything is under her control. If she realized just how little control, she wouldn't stop screaming until she reached Ain't Nowhere Else to Run, USA.
The case for legal prostitution, how bad parents mess up their kids' lives, the complexity of blended families, abusive men, stay-at-home moms, mother-daughter relationships, teenage girls' problems with self-image, drug addiction––these are some of the issues addressed by Lippman in this book, Heloise's first novel-length appearance. Heloise first appeared in a short story and a new ebook, Hints of Heloise, contains two previously published short stories and a new one, "Form 95." Lippman gives Heloise's history from childhood to the present in chapters alternating with the present in And When She Was Good. Her writing is clear and to the point. Heloise's story is an interesting one, very well told. A great read by the fire.