He’s a Ken doll kind of guy, if Ken had a great year-round tan. Tall and muscular with even features, pale eyes, dark hair. Women always assume Ken wants a Barbie, but he prefers his women thin and a little skittish.
I mean, what even does all that mean? My Ken doll did have a year-round tan, plenty of women do not assume Ken wants a Barbie, and how is Barbie not thin? I mean. And then two different characters in the space of 10 pages complain that the little restaurant where they meet should be the Heigh-Ho, not the High-Ho. And the lead female introduces herself as the “Pink Lady.” This is the kind of writing, attempting to be clever, but begging to be picked apart. It’s also, I think, meant to feel like a noir voice, with the use of unusual metaphors. But it doesn’t feel natural and drew too much attention to itself.
And then, when deciding whether to continue, I read a Washington Post review that summarized a lot (a lot) of the plot, a plot that relies heavily on secrets being revealed. But inertia and the fact that this was an easy read kept me going, and I ended up enjoying a lot of it, especially once I got through the first half, and new mysteries, not revealed in the WaPo review started to emerge.
Sunburn is set in a small Delaware town. Pauline has shown up there after leaving her husband and daughter. And Adam is a private detective, hired by someone from Pauline’s past for reasons that gradually become clear. The two end up working at the High-Ho, Pauline (Polly) as a waitress and Adam as a cook. And against both of their better judgment, they fall in love — maybe.
Lippman uses a third-person narrative voice that puts us in both characters’ heads, but it’s never clear if we’re getting all their thoughts. Both make some decisions that play against reader sympathy. Polly, for instance, has abandoned her daughter and seems unconcerned about it, yet when you’re in her head, seeing how miserable she was in her marriage and understanding more of her history, the decision makes sense. Adam is stringing along both Polly and his client, but his client seems like a creep and Polly may not be honest. So there are reasons. I still never quite bought their romance. They both seemed to be playing too many angles, Polly more so than Adam — Adam just seems easily taken in by women.
As events build toward what will certainly be a dramatic conclusion, the characters’ motivations get clearer in some areas and murkier in others. And the ending leaves a few questions about the choices they made and to what degree they were swept up in events and to what degree they engineered the events that occurred. It ended up being a pretty good read. I had a few reservations about a couple of crucial characters who ended up somewhat cartoon-like in their nastiness, but in a book like this, that’s not a major concern. The important element, the twisty and slow plot build, works well, and once I got into it, I had a good time with it.