Life Sentences

Life Sentences

by Laura Lippman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061944888
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/02/2010
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 767,421
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Since LAURA LIPPMAN’s debut, she has won multiple awards and critical acclaim for provocative, timely crime novels set in her beloved hometown of Baltimore. Laura has been nominated for more than fifty awards for crime fiction and won almost twenty, including the Edgar. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. Now a perennial New York Times bestselling author, she lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her family.


Baltimore, Maryland

Date of Birth:

January 31, 1959

Place of Birth:

Atlanta, Georgia


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 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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Life Sentences 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
Cassandra Fallows, a successful author, is casting about for a new project. She has written two well-received memoirs about her childhood and her two marriages, and then a novel that was panned by the critics. At loose ends, she hears a story about a woman in New Orleans whose baby is missing and the police have been unsuccessful in either finding the child or convincing the mother to cooperate. A sad enough story, but the next words make Cassandra sit up and take notice. The announcer refers the story back to a similiar one that occurred in Baltimore years before. That mother, Calliope Jenkins, had reported a child missing and spent seven years in prison rather than telling anyone what happened. Cassandra is entranced. She had grown up in Baltimore and in fact, knew Calliope or Callie, as they called her, as a childhood schoolmate. Cassandra had been one of the few white children at a local school and had become part of a group of girls, all of whom were African-American. Cassandra had been grateful to be in their group. There was Donna, the child of a prominent and politically successful family. Trisha was the go-getter and leader who kept the group together. Fatima was from a poorer family, but blossomed sexually long before the others. Then there was Calliope, whom the group nicknamed Callie, and who hung arond the edges of their group, but rarely spoke or participated. She was an enigma to those surrounding her even then. Cassandra was the child of an English professor and a stay at home mom. Her father had walked out on her mother and her when he met another woman that he claimed was the love of his life. As the girls grew up, they went to different high schools and lost touch. Cassandra is determined to go back to Baltimore and use this story as her next book. She will write about these childhood friendships and tell what really happened to Callie's baby. When she gets there, however, she quickly finds it will not be an easy job. No one is eager to talk to her or renew old friendships. She is rebuffed by all the other girls in the group, all of whom insist they have no idea where to find Callie and let Cassandra know that they wouldn't help her if they could as they don't want to be the focus of a book. Cassandra presses on. Can she find the truth that has been hidden for more than twenty years? As she pushes foward, she discovers that everyone involved has secrets, including some hard truths about her own childhood that she hasn't faced or known before. Laura Lippman has written an intriguing book. The characters are portrayed deftly, and remind us of how difficult it is to renew old friendships when life has moved us on to different pathways as adults. The plot twists and turns and pulls the reader in quickly. This book is recommended for all readers.
1louise1 More than 1 year ago
Cassandra Fallows, a successful author of two memoirs, is trying to bounce back after an unsuccessful turn as a novelist. A memoir! Brilliant idea, Cassandra thinks. Not such a good idea after all as of her research reveals things about herself that she really didn't want to know.
terrylazar More than 1 year ago
This was the most boring of Lippman's novels. No interesting characters, the plot was shabby, and there was no mystery to the ending. Lippman can do better than this. It certainly was original, no other author has come up with such a mundane read.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Author Cassandra Fallows¿ nonfiction work received critical acclaim and was best-sellers. Her venture into novels did okay, but not near the level of her memoirs of growing up in Baltimore in the turbulent 1960s or her revelations into her relationships; two failed marriages and a zillion affairs.

She considers writing a biography of her elementary school colleague notorious African-American Calliope Jenkins who two decades ago was accused of murdering her infant son. Jenkins has not answered one question on the infanticide charge. A Caucasian Cassandra looks up three African-American former classmates of both her and Jenkins in order to obtain their memories of her subject¿s childhood. However, she is taken aback as their recollections are Grand Canyonesque apart from hers.

Allowing Tess Monoghan to take a well deserved breather but remaining in Baltimore, Laura Lippman provides a deep character study that focuses on the tricks of memories. The gap between what Fallows recalls from their school days vs. the three interviewees is oceanic in size as relativity of perspective surface. Readers will enjoy this strong psychological tale that spotlights the tricks the mind employs to conceal the negative memories; especially those in which the person is more a passive observer rather than directly actively involved.

Harriet Klausner
Cailin on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Life Sentences focuses on author Cassandra Fallow's quest for the subject of her new book. An old school mate of Cassandra's, Calliope Jenkins is accused of murdering her son but will not speak about it to anyone. The book delves into how paths diverge and the way memory is often like a prism with different versions apprearing with different perspectives. I thought the book was well written and entertaining enough to make me want to finish it but I could not empathize with the main character. I disliked her and found her to be selfish and entitled. I did not like her father and found him the same, but maybe that was the point. To look at the characters and see in them their flaws.
SugarCreekRanch on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Like other books by Laura Lippman, Life Sentences is a "psychological thriller". But this book is far more "psychological" than "thriller", and I didn't enjoy it nearly as much. The plot sounds interesting: an author's childhood friends was jailed for 7 years for contempt of court, for refusing to reveal information about her missing childhood son. But it was actually a pretty slow, tame story. The "psychological" aspect is far stronger, with themes of differing perspectives, flawed memories, and racial influences. All in all, it was an okay read, but not one I'd recommend strongly.
TheBentley on LibraryThing 5 months ago
As contemporary literature, Life Sentences is actually quite good. Lippman does a wonderfully thorough job of interrogating the nature of truth, lies, and memory--from the secrets we keep, to the lies we tell ourselves, to the relative value and impact of the unvarnished truth. As mysteries go, this isn't a very satisfying one, but it makes up for it in other surprises. This would be an excellent book club book, as I imagine it would foster a great deal of interesting discussion in a group.
bhowell on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Like some of the other reviewers, I found this book a bit tedious. It did not hold my interest and perhaps my expectations of a thriller were too high. Still , Ms Lippman is a very good writer and perhaps I will try "What the Dead know" .
NovelBookworm on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Life Sentences by Laura Lippman is the story of a successful author, Cassandra Fallows. Cassandra¿s first two books, memoirs of her own life, have had great success. But when she makes an attempt to write fiction, the book is greeted with a marked lack of enthusiasm. She returns to her hometown of Baltimore to write the story she thinks will be a huge hit and a return to nonfiction. A childhood acquaintance, Calliope Jenkins, was accused of killing her baby some years ago. The baby¿s body was never found, and Calliope spent 7 years in jail on contempt charges because she refused to speak. Cassandra believes that this unsolved mystery will be her next big bestseller. During the course of investigating the story, Cassandra finds that her old childhood friends have much different memories that those she had outlined in her previous books, and many are not happy to see Cassandra back in town. Along the way, Cassandra finds out things about her youth, her friendships and her parents she never knew.Life Sentences wasn¿t all that compelling for me. I found the characters mostly unlikable, Cassandra seemed to be clueless and pretty darn self absorbed most of the time. Her father seemed to be more than a little narcissistic and her old friends intolerant. I did like her mother, I think more than Cassandra does. (Possibly because I¿ve been known to strip and refinish $25 yard sale finds myself and I¿ve spent some time under sinks changing or fixing faucets as well!) I couldn¿t figure out why this grown woman would spend so much time trying to gain her ¿jerk¿ father¿s approval when she had a mother like she did. Cassandra is aware enough of her father¿s attitudes, i.e. ¿My father believed in unconditional love, but only under certain conditions.¿ She just seems to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make him approve of her. I liked the idea behind the plot; the old ¿whodunit¿ made a great starting point. I just felt like it sort of fizzled. In the end, it was all pretty mundane, I¿d already figured out the ¿who¿ and ¿why¿, and felt sort of let down that my ordinary ending was right. I much prefer to be wrong when I think I¿ve figured it all out.
bigorangemichael on LibraryThing 5 months ago
view all 4 status updates review: Some people look forward to the budding trees and warmer days when winter finally rolls around into spring. I look forward to the latest offering by Laura Lippman. As always with Lippman's novels, I found myself both eager to begin the journey and anxious that the ride would be over far too soon. The best thing you can say about a book is that it never feels too short nor does it overstay its welcome. And that's a praise I can heap on a lot of Lippman's novels. Cassa...more Some people look forward to the budding trees and warmer days when winter finally rolls around into spring. I look forward to the latest offering by Laura Lippman. As always with Lippman's novels, I found myself both eager to begin the journey and anxious that the ride would be over far too soon. The best thing you can say about a book is that it never feels too short nor does it overstay its welcome. And that's a praise I can heap on a lot of Lippman's novels. Cassandra Fellows is a successful non-fiction writer, who wrote two staggeringly successful memoirs about her life. One was about growing up in Baltimore and the other was about her various romantic liasons. Now Cassandra is on a book tour for his latest, fictional entry which is neither as critically acclaimed nor as commercially successful as her two autobiographical tomes. One night in a hotel room, cursed with insomnia, Cassandra hears the report of a missing boy in Louisiana and hears it linked to a case in Baltimore years before. The case involved a classmate of Cassandra's, Calliope Jenkins, whose first child was removed from the home by the authorities and her second child disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Calliope never confessed to a crime and was notoriously silent about where the child went. With little evidence, Calliope was held in jail for seven years before being released. Cassandra grew up with Calliope and decides that her next project will be an examination of not only Calliope, but their social group growing up, looking to find some answers to the unsolved crime. In typical Lippman fashion, the central mystery to the novel is important but it isn't the most vital part of "Life Sentences." Lippman once again examines the impact of a crime or a criminal act can have on the various lives that it touches--from that of Calliope Jenkins to Cassandra to the various people investigating the case or defending Jenkins. Lippman hooks you in right away with the central mystery and with great care and deliberation introduces the various players into the drama. Each character is facing his or her own life sentence based on choices he or she has made over the course of their lives. Lippman also examines how the various characters filter history through their own vantage point and how subjective events and memories can be. To say more would be to give away some of the more intriguing revelations in the story. And that last thing you want is for someone to ruin the joy of finding these things out for yourself. I've heard it said that Lippman writes mysteries that transcend the genre. I'd argue that while she does that, her novels are far more complex and rewarding than just a simple "who done it?" story. These are carefully crafted, psychological portraits of the impact of various events can have on the its characters. "Life Sentences" is another winner from Lippman and a novel I heartly recommend to anyone who enjoys a well-written, thought-provoking and enjoyable story
JGoto on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Laura Lippman¿s Life Sentences is the story of a memoir writer, and her investigation into the circumstances of a childhood acquaintance¿s accusation of murder many years before. It is full of one-sided characters, none of whom are particularly likeable, particularly the men who all engage in extra marital affairs without a second thought. The protagonist, writer Cassandra Fallows, is a fifty year old who made her jump to fame writing about her father¿s infidelities and how they affected her. Despite this, during her investigation, she begins an affair with Reg, the husband of one of her former friends, with no thought about consequences. Lippman doesn¿t bother to explain the appeal of the man, except for his middle-age good looks. There must be some, however, since it prevents Cassandra from reconnecting with her old friends (Reg¿s wife and sister), and there is an ethical conflict of interest, since Reg was the lawyer of the woman Cassandra is investigating. Nevertheless, she jumps into bed with him after about thirty minutes¿ contact and has to really work at not falling madly in love with him. Another character in the book is a former homicide detective who has quit the force and become an alcoholic because she could not solve the case. Even after twenty years, she is still obsessed with it. There is a mystery plot underneath all of the convoluted situations and shallow relationships, but it ends up being overshadowed by nonsense. All in all, this is a book I did not enjoy and would not recommend.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Cassandra Fallows, author of two memoirs and one novel, travels back to her Baltimore neighbourhood to research her new book. Her first memoir centred around the lives of her middle class white family and that of her three best friends who are black and of mixed financial backgrounds. There was a fifth black girl on the outskirts of her group of friends whom Cassie never really paid any attention to but it has just now been revealed to her that this girl was questioned in the death of her infant son and then spent seven years in jail for contempt for pleading the fifth and has never uttered one word about her missing, presumed murdered son. This is what Cassie wants to base her new book on and as she travels home she finds that no one from the past wants to talk about that incident. It seems she has come to uncover a secret so big that many people have been silenced for what very little they do know and no one wants to open those doors again. But while unraveling other families secrets Cassie finds herself face to face with a secret from her very own family's past which she has not known of and must face before she can face anyone else's secrets.I really enjoyed this book. I've read one other Lippman book and it was not a stand-alone as this one is. I had expected this to be a mystery but, in fact, I would not classify it as such, nor would I call it a thriller, crime or even a suspense. It is much more akin to what I think of as Southern Fiction (with the eccentric characters and the race relations) but being set in Baltimore takes that option away. What we have here is really non-genre fiction. A story of people, a select group of people, and how a secret affected their lives.Lippman is wonderful at characterization. There is a big company of players in this book and the main characters are fleshed out, fully realized with full backgrounds and flawed human beings. The secondary characters are less developed but they certainly consist of an eccentric cast. While the plot mainly focuses on Cassandra and her life and relationship with her parents and friends from the past, often including passages from her published book of memoirs, the tracking down of the girl who grew up to possibly kill her own son forms a cohesive plot that pulls the whole together and gives an enjoyable mystery to solve with a satisfying ending, for this reader. But other readers looking for a traditional mystery may not find the ending quite so satisfying. Not having read many Lippman books I can't say whether this book is typical or not of her stand-alones but if you are looking for a traditional mystery/thriller/crime book this is not the book you are looking for. However, if you are looking for a compelling read with an intriguing plot that includes a secret to unravel then by all means you'll have found your book with Life Sentences.P.S. I can't help but mention that I just love the cover of my edition!
momgee on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Cassandra Fallows has written two successful memoirs and is thinking of writing a book of fiction next. When she hears the name Calliope Jenkins on the news, she thinks it must be the same woman she knew as a girl. Memories start to wash over Cassandra. This is when she decides to do her next book on Callie, as she and three others in her group called Calliope. Calliope¿s name was in the news because like a current case in New Orleans, she pled the Fifth more than twenty years ago, when she would not disclose the whereabouts of her son. Although, no body was ever found, nor would Callie say anything else, she spent seven years in jail. Cassandra wants to talk to Callie and get her story, along with the stories of the other three girls they both knew. Cassandra tries contacting the prosecuting attorney and the detective in the case. Unfortunately, this takes a lot of digging because no one will reveal where Callie is and no one seems to want to talk about the case or even their youth. When she does talk to the three other women she knew as a girl, it seems their memories don¿t jive with what Cassandra wrote in her memoirs . She starts to question her own memories and the motives of the people involved. Through persistence Cassandra starts to put the pieces of the puzzle in order. Throughout the story there are some intriguing concurrent sub plots going on. Cassandra¿s parents are divorced and he is remarried. Her father played a big part in Cassandra's memoirs but it turns out she based her memories on false information. Most of the main characters have their own life dramas going on which does make for interesting reading. I will say Lippman does a great job of fleshing out her characters, particularly the detective and the lawyer. Her location descriptions are also excellent. This is not your typical mystery. I felt like I was reading background material for a good part of the book when it dawned on me, this IS the book. It¿s more of a character study than a traditional mystery. Maybe I was expecting something different than this format or something more from this author. Not sure. Even though I have never read Lippman¿s work before, I have read gushing reviews about her mysteries. There is a real twist to the ending that I didn¿t see coming. The last twenty pages tie it all up rather neatly and most of the misconceptions and unknowns are revealed. Overall, I did like the book even though I felt that I was waiting for something more to actually happen. 3.5***
wortklauberlein on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Laura Lippman's "Life Sentences" explores concepts of truth, memory and lies as bestselling memoirist Cassandra returns to her Baltimore home and lands knee-deep in her own past, about which she has written much and understood little. The chance overhearing of a news broadcast mentioning the long-ago case of one of Cassandra's girlhood acquaintances, sent to jail for the death of her infant son, sends Cassandra -- who knows a good source of income when it sticks to her Manolos -- scrambling to find Calliope Jenkins. Some of the characters introduced along the way are finely portrayed, making Cassandra herself an even less appealing figure. That and my inability to believe that the fictional memoir excerpted between chapters would actually sell enough copies to make Cassandra a wealthy woman leads to the rather wan three-star rating.Still, the deceptively simple title, with its many layers and the underlying question of the book -- what gives someone the right to tell a story that can never be about just one person? -- provided enough pondering to keep me going until the somewhat hurried and not the least bit convincing end.
zibilee on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Cassandra Fallows, the gifted daughter of a classics professor and his equally intelligent wife, has used the lives of her and her family for fodder in her first two books and seeks to recapture the public's adoration by getting to the bottom of the tragic circumstances of her childhood friend Callie's life. As a child, Callie was on the outskirts of Cassandra's group, always very quiet and shy. But in more recent times, Callie's son has mysteriously gone missing. Callie, refusing to incriminate herself, remains silent on the question of her son's whereabouts and eventually has to serve seven years in prison for her silence. When Cassandra catches wind of the woman's story, she begins to pursue Callie and those who knew her, hoping to uncover the secret that Callie has kept hidden for years. As Cassandra begins to investigate the strange story, she reaches out to the friends she remembers from childhood, only to discover that they are unhappy and sometimes even hostile about their shared past. Each woman contacted has a different grudge against Cassandra and none are willing to furnish the information that she is seeking. Under the guise of camaraderie, Cassandra tries to put the women at ease but discovers that her memories from the past aren't what she remembers them to be, and also discovers the secret that binds all of the women together. Written with literary flourish, Life Sentences tells the story of a group of women whom time has torn asunder.When I was contacted to review this book by TLC Book Tours, I wasn't exactly sure what I was getting into. On the surface, the story seemed to be a literary one but I couldn't help but glean that it may actually be more of a suspense story, which is not exactly my favorite genre. But after getting sufficiently involved in the narrative, I was pleased to discover that the book actually grabbed elements from many different genres.From the outset, I felt that I really understood Cassandra. Maybe it's because I am a bookish person by nature, but I felt that as a character, Cassandra was interesting to me for many reasons. One of the reasons, of course, was that she was an author. It was interesting to see how she mined her life and the lives of her acquaintances for fodder for her books and it seemed she was always looking for the literary bottom line in all of her encounters. Another reason her character was so compelling was that she was refreshingly honest about her life and her opinions of others. She didn't try to candy-coat all the unpleasant aspects of her personality or those around her. But for all this, I didn't really like her. She was very wily when it came to the other characters in the book and her motives were always suspect to me. Watching her maneuver through her friends' lives and secrets made me a little uncomfortable, and at best she came off as a bit of an opportunist. She was at times very manipulative, poking and prodding those around her for her own gain. I guess that was why I was a little conflicted when she got her comeuppance. I felt in some ways she deserved to be knocked down, yet in others I felt more than a little sorry for her. She was both a very pleasing and utterly contemptible person to me at times.Callie's portion of the narrative was, I think, a real highlight for me. I marveled at her ability to remain stanch throuought the book and I really liked her sense of fierce independence. When she finally reveals what happened to her son in the last half of the book, it was hard not to judge her a little bit, but it was also hard not to sympathize with her as well. I liked the frankness of her life, her ability to move on past tragedy and keep herself upright for many long years, just as I admired her for finally getting her story out. Though Cassandra originally wanted to glean Callie's story for her own purposes, I think she ended up having a very positive effect on Callie, and it was through her intervention that the woman was able to reclaim part of
chrystal on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I'm surprised this is a mystery- there is an undercurrent of a mystery, what happened to the child of a schoolhood friend- but it is more a novel of social situation and relationships. Cassandra grew up in multicultural Baltimore and her 3 best friends in gradeschool were black. This story is about Cassandras life, her father and mother and how their divorce has shaped her life, and Cassandras search for her childhood friends and what has happened to them.
writestuff on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Cassandra Fallows is casting around for her next book idea after having published two highly successful memoirs and one floundering novel, when an evening newscast brings up a name from her past. Calliope Jenkins had shared an elementary school classroom with Cassandra. She was later held for seven years in prison for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of her infant son¿who is still missing and presumed dead. Now released from prison, Calliope provides the perfect backdrop for another memoir of sorts for Cassandra. Cassandra returns to her childhood home in Baltimore to try to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Calliope and her son, and ends up reconnecting with her old friends. What she discovers are buried secrets about her own life, and another perspective on what constitutes truth.Laura Lippman takes her time in developing her characters in Life Sentences, switching back and forth from the past to the present, and giving the reader multiple perspectives of Cassandra¿s life. Cassandra is not wholly likable (she has a tendency to go to bed with other women¿s husbands and seems oblivious to how her literary portrayal of the people in her life might impact them) yet I found myself wanting to give her a chance at redemption. Part of the conflict in the novel is internal ¿ that which lies within Cassandra herself. Although her goal was to write a book and not rethink her life, Cassandra ultimately is forced to deal with her own weaknesses, learn another way of seeing the world, and revisit her version of the truth.Lippman apparently used to write straight forward mysteries and suspense novels, but in Life Sentences the mystery takes second stage to the deeper issues raised in the book. Using the historical backdrop of the civil rights movement in Baltimore and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Lippman explores the difficult subject of race relations. Cassandra¿s unfaithful father leaves her mother to marry a black woman. Cassandra¿s childhood friends are all black (she is white) and the division between them (and their later anger around Cassandra¿s memoir) centers largely around unspoken race issues. One huge event in Cassandra¿s life (when she is attacked by a group of white girls in her school) takes on a different meaning when seen outside of Cassandra¿s narrow view and is explained from the viewpoint of a black friend who witnessed the attack but did nothing to stop it.Another huge theme in the book is that of memory and perspective ¿ how two people can experience the same thing and yet remember it differently. As Cassandra tries to mine her past for her next book, she discovers her memories about important events vary significantly from that of her friends.Ultimately Lippman gets to the mystery and provides an answer for her readers, but she arrives there after a meandering journey through the lives of her central characters. And that is perhaps my only complaint with the novel ¿ it moves a bit slowly at times. This is not a book a reader will plow through in one sitting. Despite this minor complaint, I can recommend Life Sentences to those readers who enjoy their mysteries character-driven vs. plot driven.
ImBookingIt on LibraryThing 5 months ago
To me, Life Sentences was a strong 4 star book bogged down by trappings that didn't work for me.I really liked that plot and the main character.The mystery was interesting and (mostly) well plotted and revealed. The question is whether Cassandra's childhood friend Calliope really killed her child, and if so, why? I've read several books recently featuring writers as characters, and I've been enjoying them. Cassandra is no exception. I enjoyed her reflections on her past, present and future and how they interrelate. Her approach to investigation also worked well for me in the story.The other characters were overall a neutral for me. They were at times compelling and at others overdrawn. In general they didn't pull me out the story, and so I can forgive them many flaws.The problems I had with the book had to do with the delivery. It felt to me there was an effort to be Literary, and it distracted from the story.A prime example of this was the wandering point of view. When done well, I like when I'm shown what different characters are thinking and feeling about the events in a book. I did like that aspect of this book, although I sometimes had to pull myself out of the story to figure out who a particular chapter was focusing on. What I didn't get were the shifts between first and third person. I'm left with the feeling that I should go back and figure out why the POV shifted when it did, and what it meant. When reading, I found it distracted me from the story.
reannon on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I've read and enjoyed some of Lippman's other books, but this one just didn't gel for me. I didn't particularly like the main charadcters, and there was one plot point I never did understand.The book is set in Baltimore like most of Lippman's work. The main character is Cassandra, who is, as might be guessed from the name, the daughter of a professor. She was a daddy's girl, but Daddy left when she was 10. As an adult, Cassandra has written best-selling volumes of memoirs, and thinks there might be another book in the story of her and her classmates, one of whom later spent sever years in prison after her baby son disappeared.Lippman is a good writer, but even good writers can occasionally produce a lesser work.
nomadreader on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Here's how the publisher describes this novel:Author Cassandra Fallows has achieved remarkable success by baring her life on the page. Her two widely popular memoirs continue to sell briskly, acclaimed for their brutal, unexpurgated candor about friends, family, lovers¿and herself. 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 middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore, her best friends were all black: elegant, privileged Donna; sharp, shrewd Tisha; wild and worldly Fatima. A fifth girl orbited their world¿a shy, quiet, unobtrusive child named 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, largely unknown outside Baltimore, could be her next bestseller.But her homecoming and latest journey into the past will not be welcomed by everyone, especially by her former friends, who are unimpressed with Cassandra's success¿and are insistent on their own version of their shared history. 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, as the stark light of truth illuminates a mother's pain, a father's betrayal . . . and what really transpired on a terrible day that changed not only a family but an entire country.My thoughts:This novel featured narration by a variety of characters, but predominantly our protagonist, Cassandra Fallows, narrated. As a reader, I did not feel a connection with her. She's wonderfully articulate, introspective, and thoughtful, but I didn't find her interesting or lovable. I found the so-called mystery to be interesting enough to finish the book, but not interesting enough to make me care what happens to these characters. I expected this novel to be mostly a mystery, but I found it to be mostly about race relations surrounding the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how his death affected these characters. As a tale of race relations, it was awkward at times. It's not a bad book, but there is something about it that does not quite work. It's certainly better in theory than in practice. The idea of this book is riveting and fascinating, but the execution fell short. Still, I'm eager to read Laura Lippman's other books. She is a good writer, and I look forward to reading an actual mystery.
porchsitter55 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I was unfortunately not blown away by this book as I hoped I might be. This was the first Laura Lippman book I've ever read. I found myself being drawn in part of the time, then found myself getting bored, or feeling a bit lost in the midst of it all. It seemed to have alot of different things going on at once and I felt slightly discombobulated several times throughout the book.The story revolves around an author who decides to write a book about a woman she knew as a child, who spent 7 years in prison for murdering her child, and as Cassandra, the author, did her research, she finds out the "truth" regarding the woman's case.This one just didn't do it for me. I'll try one of the author's other books at a later date....I won't give up on her yet.
dorisannn on LibraryThing 5 months ago
For me, Laura Lippman never disappoints and I found LIFE SENTENCES absorbing especiallyconcerning the memories of our own lives to which we religiously cling even though theymay be completely wrong. Cassandra, after writing two best selling memoirs, has "failed" in writing fiction. Then she discovers that others who were "present" in her memoirs don't see the same incidents in the same way and also that the very "lynchpin" of her first book was completely wrong. This is a book with many layers and, for me, an outstanding example of this talented writer's work.
prpl_reader_services on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A memoirist with writer's block decides to write a non-fiction
24girl on LibraryThing 5 months ago
With two highly successful memoirs under her belt author Cassandra Fallows latest work of fiction falls flat. Knowing that there is nothing else in her life to write about she is left contemplating her next step as a writer when she hears a news story that she believes could be the subject of her next non-fiction bestseller. In New Orleans a child has disappeared and his mother refuses to tell anyone what happened to him. The news story compares this case to a case in Baltimore where Calliope Jenkins once spent seven years in prison for failing to reveal what happened to her missing infant son. As it turns out Cassandra and Callie where once friends beginning when they met elementary school along with a group of girls including Donna, Tisha and Fatima. Returning home to Baltimore to investigate the story Cassandra faces resentment and bitterness from Tisha, Donna and Fatima each for a different reason but all of it having to do with her first successful memoir and Cassandra's recounting of their experiences. Finding Callie and learning the truth about what happened all those years ago is a lot tougher than she originally thought but she's determined to make it happen. I was hoping for more of a mystery read similar to What the Dead Know but Life Sentences is more a book about relationships and dealing with memories than it is a suspense story. It takes a long look at family interactions, racial issues, friendship bonds and how each are dealt with by different characters in the story. I enjoyed the book overall but was a little disappointed by the ending. The book was about 2/3 complete before Callie's story starts to be told and by the time the truth about her missing son is revealed it's more of a let down than a satisfying ending. I recommend it more for general fiction readers than suspense lovers.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This one snuck up on me.This is another author who has a series that I like who's now writing her second standalone. I'll confess that I really hated the first one, What the Dead Know, & actually couldn't get through it which is rare for me - so I approached this book with some trepidation.The start is slow, but the story & the women in it really do creep up on you, get under your skin, make you keep reading. Add to that all the thinking I ended up doing about memoirs & the nature of memory & this was a really good read. The point is a simple one - that essentially all books based on memory are in some way fictionalized because we only really know our own side of the story - but it's well made & done so without beating you over the head. I thoroughly enjoyed this book