Laura Lippman’s latest novel, After I’m Gone (HarperCollins/ Morrow; HarperAudio; HarperLuxe), gets a strong nod from Janet Maslin in the NYT this week, “The characters … are so well drawn that it’s easy to forget why they happen to be connected. Almost all of them are strong, willful women.”
“Willful” is an odd adjective. It seems to only be used to describe women and children, never men, since it is an expected, even applauded, male characteristic.
Speaking to librarians at the United for Libraries Gala Tea at Midwinter in January, Lippman talked about the “willful women” who have inspired her (including her mother, a librarian) and about another gender-shifting adjective, “ambitious,” encouraging us all to embrace it.
Thanks to Laura for allowing us reprint her talk, below, and to Virginia Stanley, HarperCollins Library Marketing, for helping us get that permission.
Laura Lippman, Photo by Jan Cobb
It’s a happy accident that my next book [After I’m Gone] comes out on Feb. 11 because it is very much a Valentine’s Day to the generations of women, including my mother, who gave birth to the women of the so-called Baby Boom. This was not conscious when I began writing the book, but it was clear to me by the time it was finished. Bernadette “Bambi” Brewer – left, with three days, to fend for herself when her husband Felix decides he cannot serve even a portion of his 15-year sentence for mail fraud – emerges as the closest thing that my book has to a heroine. Bright and beautiful, she has never wanted to be anything but a wife and mother, and I think the book ultimately validates her choice.
Now, I’m a crime writer. I never describe myself as anything else. In fact, I was so appalled at what I saw as another writer’s recent attempt to disavow the genre that I wrote a somewhat, um, spirited defense of my genre roots. The piece that had so offended me included lines such as “my big literary novel” and an announcement that the writer, after writing three crime novels, was now girding himself to stride into “the great arena of art.”
But it also made me realize how uncomfortable our culture is with ambition. Particularly when it comes to women.