Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman intrigued me from the start. I thought this was just another white woman thriller, but the start pleasantly surprised me because it started out from the perspective of a missing black woman. From the cover, I didn’t expect it to have black people at all. I thought it was going to be very similar to Someone We Know. There weren’t any black people (or people of color) at all in that book.
Remember that post I made about white authors writing about slavery and in the perspective of black people? Most of the books I have read (at least the last few books I have read) by white authors have managed to not sound like black people at all. Not even a little.
Like what slave would refer to themselves as a person of color? That just wasn’t the terminology back then.
Now this book takes place in the 1960s, so there are loads of opportunities for missteps and pitfalls in terms of a white woman attempting to talk about race. But the first correct move, in my opinion that doesn’t matter much (except, ya know, as a black person), is that she chose to use the word Negro, which reflects the terminology of the time. I don’t feel like white authors using the term People of Color for their POC characters to refer themselves as is not protecting me, as a POC, from feeling offended.
I just feel as if those authors are taking the easy way out and avoiding talking about the dark history of racial trauma in the United States that is rooted in our history and current institutions. Don’t pretend to not be a racist by acting like you don’t notice or pay attention to race.
What I also appreciate about this book is that the black characters actually kind of sounded like black characters. Part of me feels like I should feel weird because she could have just relied on stereotypes to inform the creation of her black characters.
So, I listened to the audiobook version of this novel and I felt some type of way after I found out the narrator was a white woman. She read the black characters so well. Is this a form of black face??
I definitely think the messages could have gone a little deeper, but overall, I think this is a good first step for those white women who read these crime novels to engage with thinking about race more. More than not having any characters of colors in their stories or if they aren’t white or peripheral.
Overall, I didn’t find this book problematic. I actually thought it served its purpose pretty well. Yes, Madeline, the main character, wasn’t the wokest, but she was doing more of the internal work than the rest of the white (Jewish, but still benefiting, especially in this book, from white privilege) people around her.
I do think Laura’s heart was in the right place and that she is doing the work, even more so than her character. I stumbled across this article where she got a lot of backlash from her black friends about her writing in the voices of black people.
Part of me felt like as a responsible black person, I should feel offended too. But I just don’t think Lady in the Lake is that problematic.
And all black people don’t have to feel the same about everything; we’re not a monolith. I won’t tell you how to feel and you shouldn’t tell me how to feel. Everyone’s feelings are valid and it’s up to us to reflect on our own perceptions on how we see the world working and how people are treated.
But of course, respecting people the way they want to be respected and not how we think they should be treated. And if those black author friends felt some type of way from her book, I’m glad she owned that and apologize. That makes me resect her even more.
A good apology is such a turn-on.