Life Sentences CD: Life Sentences CD

Overview

Author Cassandra Fellows has achieved remarkable success by baring her life on the page. But now, after a singularly unsuccessful stab at fiction, Cassandra believes she may have found the story that will enable her triumphant return to nonfiction.

When Cassandra was a girl, growing up in a racially diverse neighborhood in Baltimore, her best friends were all black. Another girl orbited their world—shy, quiet Calliope Jenkins—who, years later, would be accused of killing her ...

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Overview

Author Cassandra Fellows has achieved remarkable success by baring her life on the page. But now, after a singularly unsuccessful stab at fiction, Cassandra believes she may have found the story that will enable her triumphant return to nonfiction.

When Cassandra was a girl, growing up in a racially diverse neighborhood in Baltimore, her best friends were all black. Another girl orbited their world—shy, quiet Calliope Jenkins—who, years later, would be accused of killing her infant son. Yet the boy's body was never found and Calliope's unrelenting silence on the subject forced a judge to jail her for contempt. For seven years, Calliope refused to speak and the court was finally forced to let her go. Cassandra believes this still unsolved real-life mystery could be her next bestseller.

But her homecoming and latest journey into the past will not be welcomed by everyone. And by delving too deeply into Calliope's dark secrets, Cassandra may inadvertently unearth a few of her own—forcing her to reexamine the memories she holds most precious …and what really transpired on that terrible day.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Baltimore writer Cassandra Fallows has carved out a modest reputation as an author of autobiographical novels, but recently she decided to venture into the more risky waters of nonfiction. As her first project, she researches the story of a former grade-school classmate who was accused and convicted of murdering her own infant son. Fallows's investigation uncovers troubling new facts about the case, but also disturbing realizations about her own mistaken presuppositions.
Janet Maslin
Ms. Lippman makes good use of the way memoirists often choose sides in stories of divorce, and of how their idealizing and demonizing respective parents may be deeply wrong. But her greatest sleight of hand is the maneuvering that deftly compromises Cassandra as she reignites old emotions. Not until the end of Life Sentences…will the reader grasp how fully Ms. Lippman has shaped and controlled this narrative. Warts and all, Cassandra becomes a sufficiently sympathetic character to lure readers into making the same mistakes that she makes in excavating old truths.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This stunning stand-alone from bestseller Lippman (Baltimore Blues ) examines the extraordinary power and fragility of memories. Writer Cassandra Fallows achieved critical and commercial success with an account of her Baltimore childhood growing up in the 1960s and a follow-up dealing with her adult marriages and affairs. The merely modest success of her debut novel leads her back to nonfiction and the possibility of a book about grade school classmate Calliope Jenkins. Accused of murdering her infant son, Jenkins spent seven years in prison steadfastly declining to answer any questions about the disappearance and presumed death of her son. Fallows (white) tries to reconnect with three former classmate friends (black) to compare memories of Jenkins and research her story. In the process, she discovers the gulf (partially racial) that separates her memories of events from theirs. Fallows's pursuit of Jenkins's story becomes a rich, complex journey from self-deception to self-discovery. 20-city author tour. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A writer discovers the power of silence in the latest stand-alone from Lippman (Hardly Knew Her, 2008, etc.). Author of two successful memoirs and a tepidly received novel, Cassandra Fallows is jolted by a reminder of her classmate, Calliope Jenkins, who served seven years in prison rather than reveal the whereabouts of her infant son. When a similar case in New Orleans returns Callie's name to the news, Cassandra leaves her Brooklyn brownstone for her home town of Baltimore, hoping to learn enough of Callie's story so that it will serve as an anchor for a fourth book. Coping with her parents, who split when Cassandra was ten (her classics-professor father fell in love with voluptuous young Annie Reynolds, an apparent victim of the race riots that engulfed Baltimore in the wake of the King assassination) is a challenge. And her efforts to find the absent Callie provoke present-day racial tensions of their own as she faces her former classmates, Tisha Barr and Donna Howard, who close ranks against her and stonewall her efforts. Even as her attraction for Callie's attorney, Reg Barr-Tisha's brother and Donna's husband-becomes an echo of her father's interracial relationship with Annie, Cassandra knows that she will never be part of their circle, any more than silent, wary Callie will ever become part of Cassandra's empire of words. Lippman's writing is powerful and her gaze unflinching as she invokes a world in which no one is either entirely guilty or truly innocent. Mystery Guild main selection. Featured alternate selection of Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Doubleday Large Print Club, BOMC2. Agent: Vicky Bijur/Vicky Bijur Literary Agency
Washington Post
“Theirs is a strong and vivid story, one that will intrigue many readers—especially, I suspect, women who find echoes of their own lives and friendships in this drama.”
Chicago Sun-Times
Lippman has enriched literature as a whole.
People
“Succeeds brilliantly... Lippman is in total command of her material, weaving strands about race, family myths and self-deception into a mystery so taut the reader is nearly afraid to keep going—and simultaneously powerless to stop.
Daily News
“Lippman, a Baltimore native, skillfully brings the racial and economic tensions of her middle-class neighborhood to life in this poignant page-turner.”
Seattle Times
“Lippman knows exactly what she’s doing.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061714719
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 5.64 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Lippman

Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been heralded for her thoughtful, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. She is the author of twenty works of fiction, including eleven Tess Monaghan mysteries. She lives in Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York City with her family.

Linda Emond's credits include The Sopranos, all four Law & Orders, and American Experience: John & Abigail Adams. On Broadway: 1776 and Life x 3 (Tony® nomination, Outer Critics Circle Award). Off-Broadway appearances include Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul (Lucille Lortel Award, Obie Award).

Biography

Laura Lippman was a reporter for 20 years, including 12 years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about "accidental PI" Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe, and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor's Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.

Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since.

Biography from author's website.

Good To Know

In our interview, Lippman shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself:

"I can do an imitation of Ethel Merman singing ‘Satisfaction.'"

"I'm not a Baltimore native -- I arrived here about six years too late for that. But I love the fact that I've convinced the world that I am."

"Like my character, Tess Monaghan, I used to row. Unlike her, I was very, very bad at it."

"I've written eight books in my series -- one not yet published -- and a stand-alone crime novel, but my subject is always, on some level, Baltimore.

It's a problem-place, neither northern nor southern, somewhat addicted to nostalgia, yet amnesiac about the more dicey parts of its past. I used an epigraph from H. L. Mencken in one of my books: ‘A Baltimorean is not merely John Doe, an isolated individual of Homo sapiens, like every other John Doe. He is a John Doe of a certain place -- of Baltimore, of a definite home in Baltimore.' I am a person of a certain place, and that place happens to be Baltimore."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.S., Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, 1981

Read an Excerpt

Life Sentences

Chapter One

"Well," the bookstore manager said, "it is Valentine's Day."

It's not that bad, Cassandra wanted to say in her own defense. But she never wanted to sound peevish or disappointed. She must smile, be gracious and self-deprecating. She would emphasize how wonderfully intimate the audience was, providing her with an opportunity to talk, have a real exchange, not merely prate about herself. Besides, it wasn't tragic, drawing thirty people on a February night in the suburbs of San Francisco. On Valentine's Day. Most of the writers she knew would kill for thirty people under these circumstances, under any circumstances.

And there was no gain in reminding the bookseller...Beth, Betsy, Bitsy, oh dear, the name had vanished, her memory was increasingly buggy...that Cassandra had drawn almost two hundred people to this same store on this precise date four years earlier. Because that might imply she thought someone was to blame for to-night's turnout, and Cassandra Fallows didn't believe in blame. She was famous for it. Or had been.

She also was famous for rallying, and she did just that as she took five minutes to freshen up in the manager's office, brushing her hair and reapplying lipstick. Her hair, her worst feature as a child, was now her best, sleek and silver, but her lips seemed thinner. She adjusted her earrings, smoothed her skirt, reminding herself of her general good fortune. She had a job she loved; she was healthy. Lucky, I am lucky. She could quit now, never write a word again, and live quite comfortably. Her first two books were annuities, more reliable than any investment.

Her third book...ah, well, that was the unloved, misshapen child she was here to exalt.

At the lectern, she launched into a talk that was already honed and automatic ten days into the tour. There was a pediatric hospital across the road from where I grew up. The audience was mostly female, over forty. She used to get more men, but then her memoirs, especially the second one, had included unsparing detail about her promiscuity, a healthy appetite that had briefly gotten out of control in her early forties. It was a long-term-care facility, where children with extremely challenging diagnoses were treated for months, for years in some cases. Was that true? She hadn't done that much research about Kernan. The hospital had been skittish, dubious that a writer known for memoir was capable of creating fiction. Cassandra had decided to go whole hog, abandon herself to the libertine ways of a novelist. Forgo the fact-checking, the weeks in libraries, the conversations with family and friends, trying to make her memories gibe with hard, cold certainty. For the first time in her life...despite what her second husband had claimed...she made stuff up out of whole cloth. The book is an homage to The Secret Garden...in case the title doesn't make that clear enough...and it's set in the 1980s because that was a time when finding biological parents was still formidably difficult, almost taboo, a notion that began to lose favor in the 1990s and is increasingly out of fashion as biological parents gain more rights. It had never occurred to Cassandra that the world at large, much like the hospital, would be reluctant to accept her in this new role. The story is wholly fictional, although it's set in a real place.

She read her favorite passage. People laughed in some odd spots.

Question time. Cassandra never minded the predictability of the Q-and-A sessions, never resented being asked the same thing over and over. It didn't even bother her when people spoke of her father and mother and stepmother and ex-husbands as if they were characters in a novel, fictional constructs they were free to judge and psychoanalyze. But it disturbed her now when audience members wanted to pin down the "real" people in her third book. Was she Hannah, the watchful child who unwittingly sets a tragedy in motion? Or was she the boy in the body cast, Woodrow? Were the parents modeled on her own? They seemed so different, based on the historical record she had created. Was there a fire? An accident in the abandoned swimming pool that the family could never afford to repair?

"Did your father really drive a retired Marathon cab, painted purple?" asked one of the few men in the audience, who looked to be at least sixty. Retired, killing time at his wife's side. "I ask only because my father had an old DeSoto and . .?."

Of course, she thought, even as she smiled and nodded. You care about the details that you can relate back to yourself. I've told my story, committed over a quarter of a million words to paper so far. It's your turn. Again, she was not irked. Her audience's need to share was to be expected. If a writer was fortunate enough to excite people's imaginations, this was part of the bargain, especially for the memoir writer she had been and apparently would continue to be in the public's mind, at least for now. She had told her story, and that was the cue for them to tell theirs. Given what confession had done for her soul, how could she deny it to anyone else?

"Time for one last question," the store manager said, and pointed to a woman in the back. She wore a red raincoat, shiny with moisture, and a shapeless khaki hat that tied under her chin with a leather cord.

"Why do you get to write the story?"

Cassandra was at a loss for words.

"I'm not sure I understand," she began. "You mean, how do I write a novel about people who aren't me? Or are you asking how one gets published?"

"No, with the other books. Did you get permission to write them?"

"Permission to write about my own life?"

"But it's not just your life. It's your parents, your stepmother, friends. Did you let them read it first?"

Life Sentences. Copyright © by Laura Lippman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    TOPNOTCH NARRATION OF AN INTRIGUING STORY

    Wonder how often I've heard the voice of Linda Emond. Countless times, no doubt, as she has played numerous roles on stage and screen. In addition, she has recorded who-knows-how-many narrations, voice overs, and commercials. Emond changes her voice as subtly and swiftly for the microphone as she does her appearance for the camera. Listen to her speak of Gypsy Rose Lee and you can almost see the feathered fan. Her lilting tone suggests joy while a tremulous quality transmits fear.

    Winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony nominee for her Broadway work she's a multi-talented and multi-faceted actress. Listening to her narrate Life Sentences one believes that she actually is Cassandra Fellows, a successful author.

    Yes, Cassandra is a best-selling author, predominantly of memoirs. She's not had very good luck with her novel, so the thought is back to memoirs. But, what to write about? She almost feels that she has said it all, told it all. Then she is reminded of Calliope Jenkins, a black girl who was in her class at school. Calliope was involved in a strange case that mesmerized Baltimore some years back - the woman's child disappeared, may have been killed, but no body was ever found.

    Brilliant idea, Cassandra thinks. She can find Calliope, discover the truth, and delve into the lives of former classmates along the way. Not such a good idea after all as her probing reveals some things about herself that she really didn't want to know.

    - Gail Cooke

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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