Friday, May 1, 2009

book review: life sentences by laura lippman

I featured this book in my mailbox delight column on March 11, 2009. 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.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

1 comment:

  1. A friend and I finished reading "Life Sentences," and both of us were not impressed. I started reading reviews, and began to wonder, were we the only ones who did not connect with the characters or really even care about them? When I saw your entry, I thought, that's just how we felt; however, I probably would go as far to say that if I hadn't been reading this book with a friend, I would not have wasted my time finishing it. All throughout the book, I never felt as though there was anything at stake for Cassandra. There was nothing that demanded she write this new book, which in the end really could only be a feature magazine article at best. This was my first L. Lippman book. I was excited to read it because of comments in The Strand. She crafts good sentences, but I would say this book lacked any crafting of plot. Thank you for letting me comment.


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