Some childhood events are so remarkable (or horrific) that they dramatically impact the self-image of the adult the child will become. But what most forget is that, whatever the experience, they were children when the events happened, and they experienced the events through the eyes and perceptions of children. So what happens when what they remember is not the way it really happened? Whose fault is it? Cassandra Fallows is about to find out.
Cassandra grew up in one of Baltimore's more racially mixed neighborhoods where her best friends Donna, Tisha, and Fatima, were all black. Calliope Jenkins, another little girl, also black, tried to make her way into their inner circle but was only grudgingly accepted every now and then. Now the girls have largely gone their separate ways and Cassandra has not seen any of them for years. This, however, has not kept her from using her childhood memories to earn her living.
Cassandra's two memoirs have, in fact, earned her a very nice living and she has every reason to believe that the royalty checks will keep coming for a long time. Her frank willingness to expose herself - and anyone who has ever impacted her life - to public scrutiny has made the books long-term bestsellers. Then, perhaps overconfident, Cassandra decided to turn her pen toward her first novel, with, at best, mediocre results.
Now she and her publisher agree that Cassandra needs a new memoir, one with a fresh hook - and Cassandra believes that the little girl who wanted to be part of her crowd all those years ago can provide the very hook she needs. Calliope Jenkins spent seven years in jail for contempt of court, accused of killing her infant son but refusing, the whole time, to answer a single question regarding the whereabouts of the boy. Eventually, the court was forced to release her even though the mystery was never solved.
Cassandra, believing she has found her next bestseller, is back in Baltimore where she hopes to shake things up enough to get at the truth of what happened to the baby boy. But if she thinks it will be easy, she is in for a big surprise. None of her old friends are happy to see her, Calliope Jenkins is nowhere to be found, and what Cassandra is about to learn about herself might just turn her two bestselling memoirs into works of fiction.
Bottom Line: Life Sentences, based on a real life incident in Baltimore, is an interesting mystery but, as usual in a Laura Lippman novel, the real fun comes from immersing oneself in the relationships between the book's intriguing characters. Lippman fans will not be disappointed in this 2009 novel.