Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

Cassandra Fallows has written two popular memoirs and a less well-received novel. Her new editor has asked for another memoir, but Cassandra feels she doesn’t have any more memories to exploit. Until a news story reminds her of a former classmate, Calliope Jenkins, who remained silent about the death of her newborn son and served seven years. Cassandra knows there is a story there, and returns to Baltimore in hopes of finding the classmate and interviewing other classmates and those familiar with the case. However, they all have a reason to remain silent too…

What I like so much about Lippman’s novels is that while there is a mystery/thriller element, Lippman always seems more interested in exploring character and more specifically the ripple effect a crime has on all the people it touches. I found this aspect fascinating and tragic – as many of the characters felt like they were serving “life sentences” in some way for being involved in the Calliope case. I was especially touched by the story of the ambitious female cop who was broken by Calliope’s stonewalling.

Cassandra’s own journey is interesting to follow as well. She’s made her reputation on writing her version of past events only to be confronted with the truth of how subjective memories can be. The present day story, written in third person, is interspersed with “excerpts” from her first memoir, written in first person. It’s a structure that takes a bit of getting used to, but that ultimately serves the story well.

LIFE SENTENCES is available in hardcover now. For more information about the author and her novels, visit her website: http://www.lauralippman.com

Oh...interesting tidbit - Cassandra's mother's name is Lenore! Cassandra's father starts calling her Lennie when he "falls out of love with her". Lennie is a more gender neutral nickname, so it shows her he doesn't appreciate her as a "sensual" woman anymore. Guess I should be glad that Daniel never calls me Lennie :) And be worried if he ever does...

20 comments:

Kelly @ The Novel Bookworm said...

I'm glad you liked this novel, it just didn't do a dang thing for me, but I really loved the character of "Lennie/Lenore!"

writemeg said...

Lippman's covers always grab me -- they're so haunting! The premise of this one sounds great, and I love reading books set in my home state of Maryland :) I'll investigate!

Lenore said...

Kelly - I can see where you are coming from. If I had been in the mood for a fast-paced heart-stopping thriller, I might have been less impressed!

writemeg - And what's really cool is that the cover actually refers to a central event in the story and how the MC "framed" her memory of it.

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds great - I'll have to try to get to it soon. I'm with you - why would anyone with a beautiful name like Lenore ever allow themselves to be called Lennie? We will all go after Daniel if he even thinks about it!

Joanne said...

This sounds really good and I love how you worded this - "the ripple effect a crime has on all the people it touches" - this is something I always enjoy in books but never had such a great way to describe it!

That was an interesting note about the gender neutral name. I've been called Jo forever and hadn't thought of that before, although I do prefer Jo to my full name. Now if my name was Lenore I would never want it shortened - it's such a pretty name.

Beth F said...

I can't believe that I've never read a Lippman book! I don't know why!

towerofbooks said...

I'm adding this to my wishlist, and that tidbit it pretty interesting!

Marie said...

Great review. Glad you enjoyed it!

Anna said...

Lenore is a beautiful name, but Lennie...well, it conjures images of the 400+ pound guy I used to know once upon a time with the same name. Yeah.

Anyway, I haven't read anything by this author, but I'll keep this one in mind.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Linda said...

I love the name Lenore, but I remember Norie too!

Doret said...

I can't help but love a book that has a Brady Bunch and Kelis Milkshake song reference.
I always wonder what dinner parties are like with Lippman, her husband (creator of the Wire) Lehane and Pelcanos (both worked on the Wire) are like.

Staci said...

What a great review Lenore! I'm excited to read my first ever Lippman book. I picked up What the Dead Know at my library last week!

Nicole said...

This sounds like a good one. I for one, am definitely intrigued, and now you know the clues to look for to determine if your relationship is going south. May he never call you Lennie.

Elizabeth said...

Count me in the crew that thinks Lenore is beautiful and Lennie... well, maybe for a private nickname. My only-in-the-family nicknames wouldn't sound so good to outsiders, so I suppose I can't judge. But I'm glad Daniel's monikers for you aren't a cause for alarm :)

Sadako said...

Yeah, Lenore is a gorgeous name. Very Edgar Allen Poe!

Anna Claire said...

I've read some of Lippman's older books - very good, with lots of psychological probing. Now I want to check this one out!

And I love your name: elegant, classic, but not a name you hear all the time.

infiniteshelf said...

This looks interesting! I haven't read anything by Lippman yet, but I have had friends recommending her books to me. And it's true the cover is very, very nice!

Pam said...

Wow, sounds creepy! The style sounds interesting. I've read a lot of faux memoirs, lately so this might be making its way into my TBR list.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I keep meaning to read Lippman as I've heard good things about her books.

Zibilee said...

I'm not crazy about mystery/thrillers, but from your review I take it this one has a slightly different focus. I will have to be on the lookout for this book, it sounds quite good.