Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Sunburn.
Can love born of deception survive? Possibly, but when each person hides secrets, there's room for doubt to take root. Sunburn is steeped in noir black-and-white glamour of moody, sensuous 1940s films like "The Postman Always Rings Twice" or "Double Indemnity," with bleached-blonde sirens and dark, inscrutable men, attraction ignited by white-hot passion. Though the story begins in 1995 in small-town Belleville, Delaware, it feels like the post-war Forties, a place out of time, a couple eschewing potential incompatibilities to be together. When Adam Bosk sets his eyes--and soon his heart--on henna-haired Polly Costello, he's hooked.
Having run away from a dull, mind-numbing marriage, she has embarked on a plan years in the making. That she left behind a young daughter as well is the first jarring note in the novel. Clearly, this cunning female protagonist is a woman to be reckoned with, even admire. This discordant note serves as a caution: admire this clever woman, but reserve judgment. Polly (or Pauline) Costello (or Ditmars or Hansen) has found it necessary to guard her privacy, a plan for the future sealed securely in her mind, safe from the meddling of others.
Like the masterful directors who drew audiences to the histrionic fare they so elegantly served to movie audiences, Lippman has recreated the feel if not the era, and the passion if not the sharply-etched danger of forbidden romance. Adam understands the risk of pursuing Polly, feels it in his gut, ignoring discrepancies time after time in favor of love. He doesn't fight it, nor does she, each aware that what they share is worth protecting. They each take jobs at the small, local bar, the High-Ho, she as a waitress, he as a cook. Both plan to move on, but neither does.
Polly is an enigmatic character, driven, focused, often ruthless in pursuit of her goal but capable of a profound stillness as well, a calmness that resonates with Adam. Bad choices have led Polly to her risky plan, a woman caught in a web that cedes power to men, as if the cultural revolution never reached any farther than the radical coasts east and west. Tailoring solution to problem, Polly thinks on her feet, making adjustments as needed, still leaving room for Adam in her bed and in her heart.
I enjoy everything Lippman writes, but this unique tale leaves me unsettled, its plot intricately devised, Polly's ingenuity impressive, a bit of revenge served cold. Eccentric characters drawn in dusty shades clutter the landscape: brutal men, con men, crooked lawyers, dirty cops, bar patrons, a jealous waitress at the High-Ho. But the red-haired woman in the yellow sundress shines brighter than anything Adam sees. And the dance begins.