Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone deals with a cold-case detective’s investigation into the disappearnce of shady businessman Felix Gottshalk’s that occurred exactly ten years after after the murder of his mistress, Julie. Instead of focusing on Felix, the book focuses on his wife, Bambi, his daughters, and Julie. Laura was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about this well crafted novel.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Your book is based on a true missing persons case, but you chose to focus on the people left behind. What pushed you in that direction?
LAURA LIPPMAN: I think the minute that Felix walks out that door, he opts out of his family’s life — a tragic, selfish choice. You know, a lot of us (myself included, sometimes) are present but missing. In some ways, this is a cautionary story about what you might miss — the good, the bad moments, the big and the little ones. Felix misses everything.
MP: What was the biggest challenge in covering all the time periods?
LL: Getting it right. I think readers would be amused by the lengths I go to when I’m trying to nail down certain details. Those earrings! The hours expended upon finding the right earrings for Felix to give Bambi. And then there’s the serendipity of meeting a reader who went to Forest Park High School and could describe the dances for me.
MP: While it’s subtle, Bambi’s Jewish background is always present in the book. Do you think the story would be much different if the family were WASPs?
LL: I honestly don’t think so. Bambi’s class origins — upper middle class, but not truly rich — are more important than her religion in some ways. Now if she were a blue-blood, old-money WASP — yes, that would be very different. Perhaps this is one place where my imagination failed me; because the real-life inspiration was Jewish, it never occurred to me not to write her as such.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Sandy is a wonderful investigator/guide for the story in the sense that he’s fully dimensional as a character, but he never draws the attention away from the women. Besides being a cold-case cop, what made him perfect to question the rest of your characters?
LL: He’s so solitary. I think, over the course of the investigation, he taps into Julie’s longing to be part of a large, intertwined family. All she has is her sister. All he had was his wife — and the son from whom he is now estranged. And the estrangement does not speak well of Sandy. But there’s a yearning there, a real wistfulness.
MP: Bambi is a woman who has more layers to her than you may initially think. Do you see her as a woman of her generation or a woman trapped in her generation?
LL: They certainly had tight parameters, fewer choices. Bambi is very much a woman of her time and class. But she’s also, to my mind, wonderfully resilient and clever. Bambi might not have made it through a semester of college, but she shows at the end that she’s very smart.
MP: The themes of class, religion, and family are very nuanced. Did you have them in mind before writing the book or did it grow out of the story and the characters?
LL: The book initially started with a Jewish High Holidays scene that never made it. Then I backed up, started with Michelle’s bat mitzvah. So the religious themes were always there. But in the case of this book, the characters arrived as themselves and dictated where I was to go. I don’t usually sound so airy-fairy, but Bambi was just there, as were her daughters.
MP: You’re one of the best short story writers out there, you have one of the most entertaining series PIs, and you’ve given us some knock out stand-alones. Is there anything you can’t write?
LL: Oh, wow. I cannot begin to take a compliment like that. I am desperate to say something self-deprecating. I’ll be sincere and admit that it’s one of my great disappointments that I cannot write poetry. Every year, when I teach at Eckerd College, Peter Meinke does a reading and I’m enraptured. I’ve also had the pleasure of hearing my friend Beth Ann Fennelly read her poetry. And this year, at the closing night reception for the Eckerd College Writers in Paradise program, the president of the college, Donald Eastman, read an anti-war poem that blew us all away. I don’t even try to write poetry. It’s a form so demanding that even the spaces between the words have to be perfect.
Laura Lippman will appear at BookPeople alongisde author Jeff Abbott on Wednesday, Mar 5 at 7PM. For more information and to order a signed copy of the book, visit our website, bookpeople.com