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Onyx reviews: I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

Over twenty years ago, Elizabeth Lerner was kidnapped by a socially inept man who attacked young women and then murdered them to cover his tracks. "The summer she was fifteen" is the code phrase she and her husband use to refer to that time. Her captor, Walter Bowman, was ultimately arrested and convicted of two murders and is currently sitting on Death Row. The case drew a little national attention at the time, and a true crime book was written about it, but Eliza has put all that behind her. After she was rescued, her family moved so she could go to a school where the other students didn't see her as a rape victim. She shortened her name to Eliza and adopted her husband Peter's last name, Benedict, after they got married. Few people know what happened to her. She intends to tell her two children only when she thinks they're ready to handle it.

The letter she receives from Bowman is an unwelcome invasion of her privacy and a threat to her family's stability. The Benedicts recently returned to the US after living in England for six years. Eliza is having trouble with her moody teenage daughter, Isobel (Iso), who resents being uprooted from her friends and is acting out in school, and her 8-year-old son Albie, who suffers frequent nightmares.

I'd Know You Anywhere alternates between the present and 1985, the summer Eliza was fifteen. On the day she was taken, she was heading toward a dive her parents forbade her from frequenting, dressed like a Madonna wannabe. She stumbled upon Bowman shortly after he finished burying the body of his latest victim. For reasons he can't even explain to himself, instead of killing Eliza, he takes her with him. He knows that he can't stay around the area, so they go on an erratic road trip. He keeps Eliza from trying to escape by telling her that he knows where she lives. He'll kill her family if she runs away.

For her part, Eliza keeps Bowman entertained by telling him stories in the tradition of Scheherazade, and she learns how to manage his insecurities about his lack of education. He takes odd jobs, but money is tight and they end up camping and eating junk food most of the time. Eliza's memory of those six weeks is fairly clear, even all these years later, but there are details about which she isn't clear, especially (and tellingly) the events leading up to Bowman's capture.

Eliza was the one who got away, the only one of his victims to survive the encounter. Another girl, Holly, was murdered in Eliza's presence, and Eliza had opportunities during her weeks-long ordeal to escape or report what was happening to her, but she didn't, which did not endear her to Bowman's prosecutor. The author of the true crime book insinuated that Eliza colluded with Bowman, that she wasn't entirely innocent. Holly's mother, who essentially gave up living after Holly's death, despises Eliza for surviving and for not saving her daughter.

Bowman sees Eliza in a society photograph in The Washingtonian magazine. Though he hasn't seen her in decades, he'd know her anywhere. He reaches out to her through an intermediary, a woman named Barbara LaFortuny who acts as a prisoners' advocate. At first, Barbara conveys letters back and forth. She then presses Eliza to accept collect phone calls from the prison. Sensing that Eliza is reluctant to increase her contact with her former attacker, Barbara goes so far as to show up announced when Eliza is walking the family dog. Barbara has never met Bowman—hasn't even spoken to him on the phone—but they have been communicating by mail for years. She denies that she's one of those women who fall in love with inmates, but she acts so zealously on his behalf that she clearly has strong feelings for him.

Barbara suggests that the whole story of Eliza's kidnapping was never told, and this veiled threat is what gives I'd Know You Anywhere its deepest sense of foreboding and suspense. Bowman can't physically harm Eliza, but he could divulge secrets and turn her life upside down. It's not a strong hold, but it's enough, especially for someone like Eliza who has grown into a diffident and aimless adult, a stay-at-home mom who follows her husband wherever his career takes them. She can't even bear to sleep with the windows open, though she wasn't taken from the house. Her older sister resents the way their parents restructured their lives around Eliza.

Bowman has been on Death Row longer than any man in Virginia's history and has expended all possible appeals. He has no hope of ever getting out of prison, but that doesn't mean that Eliza can't help him in other ways. Bowman tells her that he only wants to apologize, and he wants Eliza to accept his apology in person. He suggests that he might reveal the truth about the other girls he killed, the ones whose bodies were never found and for whose murders he was never tried, if she grants his request. Because of her unique status as Bowman's only living victim, Eliza wonders if she owes him anything for sparing her life. Is she obliged to take Holly's mother's feelings into account? She establishes boundaries that she will not cross when speaking to Bowman. Her family is off limits, for example. Yet, she is increasingly drawn in.

I'd Know You Anywhere, inspired by a true story, is not a thriller or a suspense novel. The tension is entirely psychological. It explores a woman with a troubled past and the ways that one horrible experience formed the person she became as an adult, and how she can, perhaps, overcome some of her shortcomings. The success of the novel depends on how willing readers are to accept both versions of Eliza: the young girl who allowed herself to be controlled and terrified by Bowman, and the adult woman who is still ceding control of her life to almost everyone around her.

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