Wednesday, March 04, 2009

#16 - Life Sentences

I have a literary crush on Laura Lippman. Last year around this time, I interviewed her for Another Thing to Fall, the latest novel in her Tess Monaghan series. She answered my questions patiently and honestly (via email), which made me crush even harder. Two weekends ago, mired in the fog of disease and a decided lack of energy, I cuddled into bed with her latest novel, Life Sentences. Her latest stand-alone novel, like What the Dead Know, is also based on a real Baltimore criminal case. In this novel, Lippman mixes it up a bit, however, with her characters -- the main one, Cassandra Fallows, is a writer. And not even a crime writer.

With two successful memoirs behind her, Cassandra's third book, a novel, isn't doing so well. A lonely night on her latest book tour turns up a kernel of an idea: she'll write from truth once again, this time exploring the lives of her childhood friends. One in particular, a woman named Calliope Jenkins who spent seven years in jail for killing her child (but who never admitted the truth to anyone). A platform to explore issues of race, priviledge, memory and friendship, the novel exquisitely circles around itself, mixing in sections of Cassandra's successful books with points of view from other characters, until it reveals the truth.

There are so many reasons why I liked this book -- the insider's perspective on the publishing industry, the fast-paced nature of the narrative, and the rich characterization of both Cassandra and the supporting players. Lippman writes women well without falling into the typical stereotypes that sometimes plague lesser crime/commercial writers. She elevates them, regardless of their damaged state, into real people, and never passes judgement on their habits (alcohol for some; sex for another) and/or motivation unless it's to empower someone by the end of the story. Overall, there's not much else to say except that it's a pretty darn good read.

1 comment:

Zesty said...

At last, you're back!