Sunburn is my second outing with Laura Lippman. I just re-read my review of The Most Dangerous Thing from 2014 and the issues I have with Sunburn are pretty much the same issues I had with that book.
Sunburn concerns the fates of Polly and Adam. Polly (who has several other names) walks away from her husband, Gregg, and daughter, Jani, while the three are on a beach holiday. She lands in a little backwoods town (Belleville, Delaware), and that’s where Adam finds her. Adam has been hired to find her, actually. He couldn’t have known that he would be so attracted to her. “It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him.”
Adam and Polly end up taking jobs at High-Ho, a dump of a bar, where Polly waits tables and Adam, who happens to be a trained cook, revamps the menu. At first they keep their distance from each other.
He doesn’t go in hard. He’s not that way. Doesn’t have to be, if that doesn’t sound too vain. It’s just a fact: 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 that Ken wants a Barbie, but he prefers his women thin and a little skittish.
Skittish is certainly one way to describe Polly. Secretive and calculating would also be apt. Polly’s complicated past stretches beyond leaving her family on the beach. “If anyone knew her whole story, that might be the truly shocking part, the way she ruined her own second chance. But no one knows her whole story.”
For a while, the dance between Adam and Polly is interesting. They each have secrets and they are keeping their true feelings and motives close to their chests. Is Polly a player, a maneater? How does a mother walk away from her kid? It’s a question worth asking. And Adam? Who is the mysterious man who has asked him to keep tabs on Polly? What is he really after?
Ultimately, though, in the same way that the climax of The Most Dangerous Thing was anticlimactic, Sunburn doesn’t really get anywhere….and it certainly doesn’t get anywhere quickly. The first third of the novel is far more page-turning than the last third. By the time I got to the end, I didn’t even believe in Adam anymore. He seemed sort of neutered.
I’ll say the same thing about Lippman as I did the first time around: she can write. And maybe some readers won’t mind a meandering journey like this one, but it was just so-so for me.