Life Sentences (Lippman) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Ms. Lippman makes good use of the way memoirists often choose sides in stories of divorce, and of how their idealizing and demonizing respective parents may be deeply wrong. But her greatest sleight of hand is the maneuvering that deftly compromises Cassandra as she reignites old emotions. Not until the end of Life Sentences…will the reader grasp how fully Ms. Lippman has shaped and controlled this narrative. Warts and all, Cassandra becomes a sufficiently sympathetic character to lure readers into making the same mistakes that she makes in excavating old truths.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


Theirs is a strong and vivid story, one that will intrigue many readers—especially, I suspect, women who find echoes of their own lives and friendships in this drama.
Washington Post


Succeeds brilliantly.... Lippman is in total command of her material, weaving strands about race, family myths and self-deception into a mystery so taut the reader is nearly afraid to keep going—and simultaneously powerless to stop.
People


(Starred review.) This stunning stand-alone from bestseller Lippman (Baltimore Blues) examines the extraordinary power and fragility of memories. Writer Cassandra Fallows achieved critical and commercial success with an account of her Baltimore childhood growing up in the 1960s and a follow-up dealing with her adult marriages and affairs. The merely modest success of her debut novel leads her back to nonfiction and the possibility of a book about grade school classmate Calliope Jenkins. Accused of murdering her infant son, Jenkins spent seven years in prison steadfastly declining to answer any questions about the disappearance and presumed death of her son. Fallows (white) tries to reconnect with three former classmate friends (black) to compare memories of Jenkins and research her story. In the process, she discovers the gulf (partially racial) that separates her memories of events from theirs. Fallows's pursuit of Jenkins's story becomes a rich, complex journey from self-deception to self-discovery.
Publishers Weekly


A writer discovers the power of silence in the latest stand-alone from Lippman (Hardly Knew Her, 2008, etc.). Author of two successful memoirs and a tepidly received novel, Cassandra Fallows is jolted by a reminder of her classmate, Calliope Jenkins, who served seven years in prison rather than reveal the whereabouts of her infant son. When a similar case in New Orleans returns Callie's name to the news, Cassandra leaves her Brooklyn brownstone for her home town of Baltimore, hoping to learn enough of Callie's story so that it will serve as an anchor for a fourth book. Coping with her parents, who split when Cassandra was ten (her classics-professor father fell in love with voluptuous young Annie Reynolds, an apparent victim of the race riots that engulfed Baltimore in the wake of the King assassination) is a challenge. And her efforts to find the absent Callie provoke present-day racial tensions of their own as she faces her former classmates, Tisha Barr and Donna Howard, who close ranks against her and stonewall her efforts. Even as her attraction for Callie's attorney, Reg Barr—Tisha's brother and Donna's husband—becomes an echo of her father's interracial relationship with Annie, Cassandra knows that she will never be part of their circle, any more than silent, wary Callie will ever become part of Cassandra's empire of words. Lippman's writing is powerful and her gaze unflinching as she invokes a world in which no one is either entirely guilty or truly innocent.
Kirkus Reviews

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