Baltimore author Laura Lippman’s deeply personal new memoir is a 42-page master class in discretion.
In “The Summer of Fall: Gravity is a bitch, but I’m still standing,” the bestselling crime novelist outlines a painful period of her life during which she was beset by one loss after another:
Over the past three years, Lippman’s marriage to the screenwriter and producer David Simon collapsed. She watched her adored older sister slowly lose her memory to Parkinson’s disease. And last summer, she became responsible for assisting her 91-year-old mother after the formerly independent widow suffered a frightening fall.
And then Lippman took a tumble herself.
Of course she did.
The combined weight of those stresses almost would be enough on their own to break bones — though in this case, a foot slip on slick stairs in a New York subway station wreaked serious havoc with Lippman’s left shoulder.
“I begin crying in public,” Lippman, 64, writes in “The Summer of Fall,” which was released Wednesday on the digital subscription library Scribd.
“I feel as if everything, everyone in my life is falling. Falling down, falling from grace, falling in and out of love.”
Lippman’s essay is candid and revealing. But it is not a tell-all.
The novelist maintains a robust presence on Twitter, where her tone is friendly, conversational and comic, with a gratifying undercurrent of female empowerment. That voice creates the impression the writer is revealing a great deal about herself. But with the exception of her injury, Lippman kept mum on Twitter for more than three years about the stresses in her life.
Intensely loyal, Lippman is vigilant about protecting the privacy of family members and friends, even if that means describing only the outlines of events while glossing over the messy details. For instance, the memoir never mentions Simon by name. He is simply “my ex-,” the man from whom Lippman has been separated since January 2020.
If, in all that time Lippman ever was angry at her “ex,” you won’t find it in the memoir, though an occasional note of exasperation creeps in.
On Oct. 3, 2022, Lippman posted a tweet alerting readers that it was a difficult day and she might be feeling blue. According to the essay, Simon saw the tweet and was concerned. He sent Lippman a text inquiring if she was OK.
Lippman responded: “Today would have been my 16th wedding anniversary, David.”
Below are some revelations from the essay that Lippman’s fans won’t find on Twitter.
Simon wrote her a goodbye letter
Simon and Lippman are former Baltimore Sun reporters. They met on the job, became a couple and separately made it big. He created the seminal HBO television series “The Wire.” She has published nearly three dozen novels and short-story collections. Apple TV+ is producing a miniseries based on her book “Lady in the Lake.”
The essay portrays a troubled marriage without disclosing the conflicts that drove the couple apart — though Lippman describes herself and Simon as “workaholics.”
Lippman writes that she tried to separate from Simon in 2019 but that he talked her out of it. In February 2020, the couple took a disastrous trip to Paris to celebrate Lippman’s 61st birthday.
“My soon-to-be-ex worked furiously on his laptop for most of the eight-hour trip” on the flight home Lippman writes.
“I was used to him working furiously, all the time. But in this case he was writing me a good-bye letter, which he gave me five days later, after announcing his decision to leave our marriage. ... He wrote that he loved me but was no longer in love with me.”
Reconciliation seems unlikely
According to a search of Maryland court records, neither Lippman nor Simon appears to have filed for divorce.
Despite that, Lippman writes, their marriage truly is over. Both are free to explore new relationships.
“Almost six months into our separation,” she writes, “I realized there was no hope for our marriage and I chose to stop loving him. It really can be that simple. That’s why I don’t understand why people talk about falling in and out of love, as if it’s something they don’t control. Trust me, it’s one of the rare things we can control.”
Lippman and Simon have agreed to live within walking distance of each other for the sake of their child. And letting go of the marriage has paradoxically made it easier to enjoy each other’s company; last summer, Lippman, Simon, his adult son and their preteen took what she describes as “one of our most successful family trips ever” through Spain.
“Laura and I are close friends and committed co-parents,” Simon wrote in an email to The Sun. “Nothing else to say.”
The author is close to her sister
Lippman writes that her 66-year-old sister has been living in the memory unit of an assisted living facility where she is being treated for Parkinson’s disease since the fall of 2021.
The day Lippman’s sister moved in, she told the author: ‘You can write about me,’” the essay says.
Lippman visits her sister twice a week, bringing her home-baked treats and entertaining her with anecdotes taken from her life that have been edited to be humorous instead of painful.
“My sister has good days and bad days,” Lippman writes. “The bad days are sad; the good days are heartbreaking. On a good day, my sister can see her situation with her characteristic sharp-witted clarity. ‘Most things, you get used to over time and it gets better,’” she says to me. “‘This only gets worse.’”
Because her sister has had a lifelong love of fashion, the author dresses up for her. Lippman’s Twitter followers have become accustomed to periodic photos of the tall, blond novelist modeling new looks.
“The joking, over-dressed selfies I post to Twitter are usually outfits I’ve put together for my sister’s delectation,” Lippman writes.
She’s a member of the sandwich generation
Because Lippman’s only sibling is incapacitated and their father is dead, when her 91-year-old mother fell, was hospitalized, and suddenly had to relocate from Delaware to Baltimore, it fell to the author to manage her mother’s care.
“I am literally,” she writes, “the last Lippman standing.”
As challenging as were the practicalities of caring for two family members in declining health, the emotional toll was worse. Lippman writes that she had a reputation in her birth family as the golden child on whom fortune smiled.
“It’s better to be the lucky one, of course,” she writes. “But it can be a burden, too.”
When Lippman wasn’t at the hospital or at the assisted living facility, she was helping her preteen, who will turn 13 later this month, navigate the challenges of growing up.
Throughout the essay, Lippman refers to her child as “my kid.” Two-thirds of the way through, she notes matter-of-factly, “My kid, who is gender fluid, professes not to believe in marriage, although they’re all for love.”
For the remainder of the essay, Lippman uses the pronouns “they” and “their” to refer to her child.
She is healing and finding joy
Lippman has a typically witty take on the old cliche that adversity builds character.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Lippman posts on Twitter, “but what if it’s just keeping you in a cage and feeding you until you’re plump and luscious and perfectly marbleized?”
But she does seem to be recovering her footing. Lippman began collecting Mexican folk art in her 20s, and this week, completed training to become a docent at the American Visionary Art Museum, an activity she describes in the essay as making her “practically vibrate with joy.”
Her shoulder — finally — is healing. Last week, Lippman was able to zip up a dress using her left arm, she shared on Twitter.
She is thrilled that “Lady in the Lake” created jobs in her hometown, and says she is one of the rare authors who enjoys writing.
“I don’t think I would do this if it didn’t make me happy,” she writes.
And Lippman spends lots of quality time with her kid, sprawling across the bed and laughing at the warning label on a stuffed penguin that reads, “Use under adult supervision!”
Lippman’s got that part covered.