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.