Lippman tackles idealistic romantic love and its aftermath in a tale
propelled by the unsolved death of a mistress and the vacuum created by the
disappearance of Felix Brewer, a master schemer who skirts the law and makes an
enviable living off the weaknesses of the gullible. Though Brewer is clearly a
white-collar crook, his establishment in the upscale Jewish community where her
and his beloved Bernadette (“Bambi”) live with their three daughters, Linda,
Rachel and Michelle, form a veneer of respectability that protects them from
shame. But when the law finally catches up and Felix is about to be indicted, he
flees the country, leaving Bambi, the girls, and his mistress, stripper Julie
Saxony, to sort out the ugly details.
The novel begins with a hefty dose of nostalgia as Bambi meets the charismatic Felix in 1959 at a local dance he crashes with two friends. In an era when women are too easily seduced by the promise of true love and happy marriage, Bambi drinks—no, gulps—the Kool-Aid without reservation, linking her future to Brewer’s, even though she senses from the first that this is a man with little respect for convention. While Felix builds his business and cultivates the respect of the community through generous donations to charity and a highly visible public profile, Bambi happily spends their income and pops out three young daughters. Slaking his appetite with other women, Felix never denies that Bambi is his one and only love. Julie, a savvy, patient woman, secretly yearns to supplant beautiful Bambi, though both women are left in the dust when Brewer flees.
The rest, as they say, is history, except that Brewer’s plans for his family’s security somehow goes awry. Julie, expecting to accompany her lover, is left behind to mourn his loss. In scenarios that range from 1959 to 2012, Lippman offers a glimpse of the intervening years, from Julie’s long wait for Felix to send for her to Bambi’s struggle to bring up the girls in the manner to which they are accustomed. The plot is infused with a mystery in 1986, when Julie leaves everything behind to finally join Felix only to disappear. Enter Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez in 2012, a retired Baltimore detective determined to solve a cold case—the murder of Julie Saxony, who disappeared ten years to the day after Felix was last seen.
The dogged Sanchez tracks Julie’s activities over the years, all leading back to the fateful affair with Felix and the consequences of his inability to face the music. Inevitably, Sanchez approaches Bambi and her daughters, slowly unraveling the years, the struggles, the twisted pathways of friendship and tragedy that alter the course of one woman’s foolish trust in her husband and another’s belief that Felix really loved her more than his wife. Lippman creates believable if eccentric characters, caught in a web of circumstance, cultural identity and family politics that are endemic to place and time. The layers of love, family and infidelity are peeled back and examined in exquisite though not always fascinating detail. Lippman understands the power of a narrative, a love story in collision with reality and human flaws that sifts the wheat from the chaff, revealing the healing power of family bonds and the danger of embracing the lies lovers tell in the heat of passion.