By Seija Rankin
November 12, 2020 at 10:00 AM EST
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Credit: Lesley Unruh

Laura Lippman is at it again. The best-selling thriller writer is following up on her 2019 hit Lady in the Lake with another twisty novel, and this time there are even more psychological mind games at play. Dream Girl will hit shelves June 22, 2021, and EW has the first look at the novel — starting with the cover reveal.

Credit: William Morrow

Dream Girl follows novelist Gerry Andersen, who is rendered nearly incapacitated by a freak accident and begins to receive mysterious phone calls. As he lies in his hospital bed, fading in and out of what he thinks is a dream state, the title character of his best-selling book continually tries to make contact with him — or so he thinks. To make matters freakier, Gerry wakes up one morning next to a dead body. Below, read an exclusive excerpt of Lippman's new novel, which gives perfect insight into the aforementioned psychological mind games.

Excerpt from Dream Girl, by Laura Lippman

GERRY DREAMS.

In a rented hospital bed, high above the city, higher than he ever thought possible in stodgy, low-slung Baltimore, Gerry is asleep more often than he's awake. He floats, he rouses, he drifts, he dreams. He tosses, but he cannot turn. He is Wynken, Blynken and Nod, casting his net over the glittering lights of downtown, deceptively beautiful at night, a city where someone might choose to live, no longer a city where one gets stuck, not at night, not in his dreams.

There is no clear demarcation between Gerry's dreams and his fantasies, his not-quite-asleep and his not-really-awake. His brain chugs, stuck in a single gear, focused on one thought or one image. Tonight he feels he is revolving, ever so slowly, like the old restaurant on top of the Holiday Inn. Then he finds himself hanging from the minute hand of the clock in the neighboring Bromo Seltzer tower, a Charm City Harold Lloyd, slipping, slipping, slipping.

Someone is waiting on the sidewalk below, arms outstretched. It's a woman, but he can't see her face. He lets go and—he wakes up.

Or does he? Was he really asleep, is he ever really awake these days? He spends all his time in this bed, his leg suspended, a nurse attending to his needs, although not very cheerfully. He supposes he should not expect anything more than competence from someone who makes a living wiping adult bottoms and emptying bedpans.

Is it the medication? It must be the medication. His sleep has never been like this before. Maybe he shouldn't take the medication. Does he need the medication? Is he at risk of getting hooked on the medication? Museums are stripping the names of opioid heirs from their buildings, yet here is Gerry, late to every trend as usual. Just like his hometown.

From downstairs, he can hear the faint hum of the night nurse's television show. It weaves itself into his thoughts, a soothing murmur. Tonight's program seems to be a talk show. It sounds like Johnny Carson. It cannot be Johnny Carson. Except—there is some weird channel, something called MeTV, a jumble of older programs from Gerry's youth. Is the nurse watching MeTV? Is her TV— HerTV—different from HisTV? If it were really MeTV, wouldn't it be tailored to one's specific preferences? Johnny Carson, Mannix, Columbo, Banacek. That would be Gerry's MeTV, which was really his mother's TV. MomTV.

And then "The Star-Spangled Banner" would play when the local stations ended their "broadcasting day." Nothing ever ends anymore. Gerry misses endings.

He will ask the nurse tomorrow about his pain meds, what exactly he's taking, what he's risking. After the surgery—there had been no time to brief him before, given the nature of his injury—he had been given a pamphlet titled "Your Role in Pain Control." The unwitting couplet is stuck in his head.

Your role

In pain control

Your role

In pain control

Your role

In pain control

It's more Rod McKuen than William Carlos Williams, but it has a sort of bare-bones charm. The words, said over and over, become ridiculous, as all words eventually do. What is Gerry's role in pain control? Isn't the human condition a cradle-to-grave attempt to gauge one's role in pain control? To whom has Gerry caused pain and to what extent did he control it? He makes a mental list.

His first wife, Lucy. If only she hadn't been so jealous.

His third wife, Sarah.

Not his second wife, Gretchen.

Not Margot, no matter how she pouts.

His mother? He hopes not.

His father? Who cares?

Tara, Luke?

            I've got a little list. Nixon had a list. Are people really nostalgic for Nixon now? That seems a bridge too far. His mother hated Nixon. He remembers her screams in the night. What happened, Mama? Someone shot Kennedy. No, Mama, they shot JFK. They shot Bobby! It's happening again, it's happening again, her voice rising in hysteria.

Everything is happening again.

            There was a letter, Gerry tells himself. There was definitely a letter. That was the indirect cause of the accident, a letter, a letter from a person who does not exist, who never existed, no matter what others believe, claim, insinuate. Only no one can find the letter now. No one knows anything about the letter.

He's pretty sure there was a letter. "Mr. Andersen, you need another pill."

The nurse, Aileen, looms over him, glass of water, pill in hand. By day, when he is more lucid—well, relatively more lucid—he has checked the label: she is following the dosage meticulously. Still, he's skeptical of the medicine. But what is his role in pain control? Should he ask for less? Does he want less? How would he rate his pain on a scale of one to ten, as the pamphlet encouraged him to do? He feels as if he's in a lot of pain, but he's had a serious injury, so it's hard to rate what he's feeling now.

A seven. Gerry gives himself a seven.

But is that the pain in his leg or his heart? Is pain the problem or does it mask the problems he doesn't want to face, the dilemmas that haunt his dreams, the fear and regret, the people he let down?

The dead—his mother; Luke—are kind at least. The living, however—he feels as if the living are enjoying his current discomfort a little too much, assuming that anyone knows what happened to him, and almost no one knows. Still, the living have been waiting a long time for Gerald Andersen to have a comeuppance, although this is more of a comedownance.

"Your medication, Mr. Andersen. It's very important that you take your medication."

He has no choice. He swallows.

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