Lippman explores a mythologized childhood in the woods that skirts Dickeyville, a suburb just inside Baltimore. Five children, Gwen, tomboy Mickey and the wild Halloran brothers, Sean, Tim and Gordon (Go-Go), spend their summers exploring, far exceeding the boundaries of their parents' permission to remain on the outskirts of the wilderness. The unity of five, Go-Go the youngest, following the older kids like a happy puppy, gradually evolves with the onset of adolescence, until a fateful summer where a ramshackle cottage is the scene of tragedy the night of a fearsome hurricane. Thirty-two years later, Go-Go is dead, either by accident or suicide, his descent into bad behavior long a familiar theme in the Halloran family. Go-Go's history is littered with secrets, the long habits of parents keeping silent about bad things infecting five friends who have secrets of their own. None of them have survived that final summer unscathed, brought together finally by the loss of the boy who raptly copied everything they did and hid the ugliest secret of them all.
The narrative voice dissects the lives of each, Gwen, Tim, Sean, Go-Go and Mickey (who has changed her name to McKey). But Lippman fleshes out these pivotal characters with their mothers and fathers, the family patterns, the facades of marriage and secrets passed from one generation to another. Often the pages feel weighted with regrets, of mistakes made and roads not taken: a beautiful, artistic mother who once dreamed of Paris and painting; a woman who trades on the artifice of her body even as her beauty fades to blowsy, changing men like costumes; fathers who act on behalf of their children, adding another layer of deceit to an already senseless tragedy; adolescents eager to explore the adult world and taste forbidden fruit, only later to be burdened with the consequences of their carelessness.
In a provocative and thoughtful novel, Lippman is not content to let events drive her story, delving relentlessly into personalities, motives, the collision of egos and the instinct for self-preservation. Guilt is reduced to nearly equal portions, a collective tragedy, a collective secret that begs for release. As expected, the truth provides a measure of relief, the breaking of silence the only palliative to now-adult lives filled with mistakes and opportunities. Humanity is, after all, a complicated thing. Lippman avoids the easy dismissal or the facile explanation. No, this is murkier territory, where only one body remains buried, secrets intact. Luan Gaines/2011.
After I finished I WOULD KNOW YOU ANYWHERE and loved it, I was eager to purchase Laura Lippman's latest THE MOST DANGEROUS THING.
The book is very well written and explores childhood friendships and childhood secrets. The story goes back and forth from the late 70's to current time. Every chapter is narrated by a different character which is fine, but sometimes I found it hard to figure out who was talking at the time. The story flows very smoothly but I almost want to say there is "much ado about nothing". I was expecting something horrific, terrible and completely different than what actually happens.
When I finished the book I said "what"? That's it? I guess my feelings stemmed from the whole book leading up to this secret lie or cover up which I just didnt think was so horrible. (bad, mind you, but not horrible to cause the feelings and depths everyone took to hide it)
Loved her characters and their development but just felt let down after it was finished. I will say I am glad I bought it because I was entertained but just let down by the ending.
Ps. This is a very personal book for her as she is writing some of the characters and the setting from her actual childhood, maybe that had something to do with it.
In the Dickeyville area of Baltimore, five school-age children meet and bond. They form a group and compare themselves to the five arms of a starfish. The group is composed of Gwen, the Halloran brothers, Tim, Sean and Go Go and, Mickey Wyckoff, the other girl in the group.
Their neighborhood was quiet and the parents permitted the children to play without monitoring their activities.
The action in the story moves from events in the 1970s to current time.
In current time, Gwen returns to care for her elderly father who has broken his hip in a fall. While home, she meets Sean Halloran who informs her that his brother, Go Go, has died, from suicide.
We learn about the character's lives since their teenage years. Gwen is married to a surgeon named Karl who seems mainly interested in himself. She's a magazine editor and wonders if she wants to live in a home where her husband is the only thing that matters.
The friends often played in Leaken Park and in 1978, while exploring, they come upon an abandoned cabin that was now the dwelling of a homeless black man. There are numerous chickens around the property and they refer to the man as Chicken George. They become casual friends of this man who often disappears for long periods.
During the summer of 1978, Gwen and Sean were dating and in her bedroom when Mickey and Go Go travel to the cabin and become involved in something with Chicken George.
We observe various sides to this event which has a major effect on the group and ends their childhood innocence.
The story is told at a leisurely pace to match the uncomplicated life the characters had. The dialogue shows the changes from when the characters were young to their maturity. This achievement is one that not many authors are able to manage.
The novel is entertaining as we witness the development of the characters and their parents as they deal with the incident. The conclusion leaves the reader saddened that the innocence of childhood is such a fleeting thing.
3 1/2 stars moving up to 4 stars.
Received free book for honest review.
PLOT: Gordon Halloran has fallen off the wagon again. When he dies in a car accident, it begins to raise questions among his childhood friends about an incident that happened one long ago summer.
CONS: I selected this thinking it was a mystery. There's very little mystery here. The only questions I had while reading it were when would it end and why I was still reading it. The Most Dangerous Thing is a long winded dull version of "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Only worse. It doesn't take the reader long to figure out what the secret that the friends share is going to be, but it sure takes a long time for the novel to reveal it. By this time, it's anticlimactic.
With few exceptions, most of the characters were self absorbed and unlikeable.
There is so little action in this novel. It's like reading someone's diary. Filled with more introspective thoughts than action, the story goes almost nowhere. It's roughly half flash back. Even in the flashbacks, there's little action or conversation.
PROS: There are a few funny bits.
2 STARS: I really liked Hardly Knew Her by this author and kept expecting this story to get better. It didn't.
I have read many of Laura Lippman's books and admired her for the ability to get inside the soul of an adult. In this crowded novel, Lippman seems to be flaying from diverse adults to children who seem to believe they were involved in The Most Dangerous Thing. Without revealing the plot or climax, five children were friends during the 1970's; they were different economically, socially and intellectually. But they were a tight club and experimented with situations like many children who are tempted and have a strong need to belong.
Oddly enough, I did not find the children interesting, as children or adults, except for Go-Go. The most fascinating characters were the parents of these five children. Tally Robison, mother of three, married to a doctor, pretty and pre-occupied with what her life should have been. Her youngest daughter, Gwen, is a main character as a child and adult. Doris Halloran, mother of three boys, who strives to do the right thing and love her children at all costs. There is Rita, Mickey McKey's single mother, who foregoes any morals for the thrill of the chase. Lippman introduces more adults who are integral to the story but she focuses on the children into their adulthood.
They are linked by an incident that was to have been a deep, dark secret. Nothing was as it seemed and it purportedly affected their lives. Lippman connects the dots at the end but it was anti-climatic and almost boring.
She had too many characters; she did flesh them out but I felt she never completed the tale with true motivations or intelligence. Lippman touched on copious problems: alcoholism, amoral lifestyles, jealousy, boredom, career development, abnormal behavior, good stepfathers, bad fathers, good fathers, cruel husbands and even the Catholic Church. The novel would have a better impact if she developed Chicken George, who was he really, and where did he go? I expected real danger but it was not easily manufactured.
"The Most Dangerous Thing" is in some ways a departure for Laura Lippman. In others, it is typical of her masterful craftsmanship. It is not, strictly speaking, a Tess Monaghan novel, although Tess makes a brief but effective appearance. Nor is it a standard whodunit. It is, as Lippman's best works are, a compelling character study of people who have been shaped by their troubled past. They survive emotionally by rationalizing their actions, even when they know that they have behaved badly.
The author veers back and forth between the late seventies and the present day. Three boys and two girls who were once close are shaken by a tragic event that is destined to scar them for life. They are: the Halloran brothers--Gordon, or Go-Go as he is known, a wild and mischievous boy and his two more conventional brothers, Sean and Tim; Gwen Robison, who lives in a nice house and has well-off parents but is still a bit insecure; and the beautiful Mickey, a tomboy who lives with her working-class mother and a series of "stepfathers." Mickey has an aggressive streak and a huge chip on her shoulder. She also uses her looks "to get what she wants or needs."
Lippman meticulously depicts the ebb and flow of the children's friendship and shows how their parents' attitudes helped shape their personalities. The story begins with a shocking death, but only gradually does Lippman fill in the the missing pieces that will help us make sense of what has happened. "The Most Dangerous Thing" has magnificent descriptive passages, scathing humor, astute social commentary, and deep insight into what makes people act the way they do. With her beloved Baltimore serving as an evocative backdrop, the author brings her original and carefully constructed story to brilliant life. She peels away the layers of falsehood behind which her characters hide and shows how Gordon, Sean, Tim, Gwen, and Mickey grow from relatively carefree and fun-loving youngsters into, in several cases, conflicted and troubled adults. This is a powerful tale that becomes steadily more compelling as it proceeds to its shattering conclusion.
In the course of The Most Dangerous Thing, the point of view shifts constantly from character to character, across a span of 30+ years. In the hands of the right author, this kaleidoscopic technique can result in a tour de force. Lippman is not that author.
Problem #1: character differentiation. Gwen, Mickey (McKey), Tim, Sean, Tally, Rita, Clem, Doris, and even poor Go-Go provide the reader with their perspectives. And they all have children, spouses, ex-spouses, some of whom stand out (prickly Vivian) and some of whom are almost immediately forgettable (Arlene). Add in Chicken George and Father Andrew, each of whom plays a key cameo role, and you've got a big messy cast of characters who are hard to distinguish from one another. Did we really need both Tim and Sean when one brother would have sufficed?
Problem #2: what's it all about? Adolescent angst? The Catholic church, sin, and guilt? Art and beauty? Enduring friendship and love? Repressed memories? The ultimate emptiness of existence? At the heart of the book are two mysteries, both pertaining to suicide and murder. Thanks to copious hints planted throughout the book, we know we're heading for some big reveals about 15-20 pages from the end. And when they arrive, it's a huge letdown. The revelations do not stand up to the weight of the expectations placed upon them, and whatever deepened understanding the reader was hoping to attain proves illusory.
The one bright spot in this otherwise messy stew of a story: Tess Monaghan's appearance late in the game. You can almost sense Lippman relaxing at this point because she's back with a character that she likes, a captivating detective whose perky dialog makes dull Gwen seem even more wooden. When Gwen walks out of the detective's office, the energy dissipates...leaving the reader with 60 pages left to go. Lippman trudges along with us to the end, but it's a surprisingly dispassionate journey. I closed the book and threw it on the floor, not because I hated it -- it's readable enough -- but because I was happy to be done with it.
In her acknowledgments, Lippman describes the book as "the most autobiographic novel I have written," (qualifying that with "in strict geographical terms"), a few paragraphs later calling it "intensely personal." As I read the book, I sensed that there were a few stories she was trying to tell, and that she was having a devil of a time staying balanced on the line between fiction and reality. And though I understand that she may want to shake off the genre label (and move beyond Tess) she may be better off working with material in which she is less emotionally invested.
I have enjoyed several books by Laura Lippman, but this one misses the mark. I found the story to be dull and lack the suspense that this author is known for. There were no great surprises, no big mystery, and no suspense... it was just a stereotypical story. I was very disappointed in this book and hope Ms Lippman goes back to her regular writing style.
Is it a fact of life that no matter how old we get we always hear our parents voices echoing back to us as we make our feeble attempt to guide our own children?
Laura Lippman must have been listening to a combination of voices from her past as well as channeling "old blue eyes" singing MY WAY when she embarked on her latest offering A MOST DANGEROUS THING. How does that line go? "Regrets, I've had a few but then again too few to mention". Well when you take the sum total of regrets in the lives of the characters envisioned by Ms. Lippman in this latest offering you just might be buried under the avalanche of regrets being voiced.
While the story is ostensibly about five playmates growing up in the town of Dickeyville and a secret that all, except one of them, has chosen to bury in the past, it is in fact a story of three families. Told from the perspective of ten different people each individual segment adds yet another piece of fabric to this patchwork quilt of a novel.
Both the parents and their off-spring seem to be suffering from a combination of depression and guilt as they individually lament the irrevocable choices they have made. Having gone their separate ways for many years, the untimely death of one of the five friends has reunited them together once again (ala The Big Chill). Each begins to mentally examine the "what if's" and the "what might have beens".
Liipmann has given us a relatively coherent and cohesive portrait of three families with each character's perspective adding layers to this paradoxical tale. The "secret" at the crux of the story is really no secret, but more a matter of each person's denial of personal responsibility. This is definitely not the best work Lippman has produced but it does serve as a checklist of sorts which we can all use to examine where we've been, what we fear, what we aspire to, what we could ultimately attain, and what we're willing to settle for.
As a fan of Ms. Lippman's previous novels, "Every Secret Thing" and "What the Dead Know" among others, I was excited to have the opportunity to read her newest work. This novel is another winner in every sense. It tells the story of five childhood friends growing up in a small town in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The group consists of the three Halloran brothers and two girls, Mickey and Gwen. They spend countless hours roaming a wooded park during long summers and weekends. But one stormy night, their peaceful world is forever changed. Over 20 years go by before the group reunites and it is after the death of their youngest compatriot, Gordon (GoGo) Halloran.
The stories that unfold throughout the rest of the book show the perspectives of each member of the group as well as their parents. We get to know what was going on inside their lives both back in 1980 and now. It was really amazingly well written. I was astounded at how convincingly real the author's descriptions of the thoughts of each individual were. She writes as a 40-something housewife who lives with the constant spectre of lost opportunities always lurking in the corners of her seemingly perfect life. Then, she writes with equal veracity as a middle aged, angry husband who is wondering how he got into the situation of being jobless with 3 kids and an unattractive wife. There are a number of characters of different ages, backgrounds and motivations and each is perfectly brought to life in this novel.
The mystery in this story builds slowly and menacingly. It is heartwrenching as you realize the truth and what it means in the lives of everyone involved. One line in the book that stuck with me is "Allowing one's self to be forgiven is just as hard as forgiving. Harder in some ways. Because to be forgiven, one first has to admit to being at fault." In the end, it's what they all have to come to terms with - both forgiving and being forgiven.
I was truly blown away on so many levels by this novel.