“Sunburn” by Laura Lippman – a dark novel about small people and what they do to survive

Laura Lippman writes mostly one-off crime related novels which are often a little bit different. This definitely applies to Sunburn which is a short but very interesting and clever novel.

Adam notices Polly on the beach and knows that she isn’t a local because of her sunburn. Nevertheless she seems to be living in this small town in Delaware so, being at a loose end, he stays too and later works in the same bar as she does. It is apparent from the beginning that Polly has secrets but it soon becomes obvious that Adam has too and that maybe this chance meeting is not all it seems for either of them.

I was quickly engaged by this novel because, like Adam, I wanted to know Polly’s secrets. The book reveals them slowly and carefully during which time it also reveals Adam’s motives. As time passes the two become more connected. They have a relationship which may, or may not, be love but can it will it last when they know about each other and what each of them are doing to survive ?

There are many revelations in this book. You are never quite sure when Polly is lying. Other people want the answers to questions that only Polly has. Adam is not sure that he really knows who Polly is. The author ties up a lot of loose ends by the time that you finish the book but there are still many questions unanswered – despite this it is a satisfying ending to the story although not the one that I had expected.

This is a book about small people living small lives and what they have to do to survive. No one in the book is important and neither Adam nor Polly has many ties to others. What Polly does seems to her like the only way out of her situation and to get to her ideal life but her ambitions are small and she is satisfied with very little.

An unusual read which only just scrapes into being described as a crime novel and might better be seen as contemporary fiction. Recommended.