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BOOK REVIEW: LIFE SENTENCES
BY LAURA LIPPMAN

We hope you enjoy this book review by Caryn St. Clair.



Life Sentences is a book that is hard to classify, and maybe that's a good thing. If we refuse to label it, then readers can open the book without given restraints placed on it. Lippman has really stretched the boundaries from her previous writing with this book. She gives readers a “cold case” to follow, but also takes a hard look at the social and judicial policies in a racially uneasy Baltimore.

This is a story of family secrets and the consequences of those secrets for years to come. At the center of this complex book is Calliope Jenkins. Readers learn Calliope's story through the eyes of Cassandra Fallows.

It was really just by chance that Cassandra got involved in Calliope's story at all. While on a promotional tour for her latest book she catches just a piece of a news story. A young woman's baby is missing and she refuses to tell authorities what happened to the infant. The reporter mentioned that this case was shaping up to be very similar to another missing infant case some twenty years ago. That mother, Calliope Jenkins, eventually spent seven years in jail for contempt of court when she refused to answer questions about her missing child. While it was widely assumed that Calliope had killed her son, there was no body and no evidence. When Cassandra heard the story, it took her a bit to realize that she had once known a Calliope Jenkins. Figuring this had to be the same person, Cassandra decided to make Calliope's story the heart of her next book. In order to gather information for the book, she returns to Baltimore. It turns out to be a difficult return. The people she needs to talk to are not that eager to meet with her. All but one of her former classmates initially turn her down. The lawyer who handled Calliope's case would not even take her calls. More importantly, it slowly becomes apparent to her that there was a lot more going on in her own family than she realized as a child.

Lippman takes her time in guiding the reader into the story shifting from the present to the past so that readers see the roots of a situation as it unfolds in the present. This works in some ways, but the inner struggles of Cassandra as she reflects on how different things really were from the way she remembers them slows the pace of the novel down considerably. I found myself tempted to flip to the last few chapters to see how it all turns out. However, that would have been a mistake as I would have missed some of the twists in the story. Yes, Life Sentences is a hard book to classify, but who cares? It's a fascinating book which stands by itself.

REVIEWED BY CARYN ST. CLAIR

DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE REVIEWER, CARYN ST. CLAIR


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