Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

Saturday, December 24, 2011

For many years I prided myself on the fact that I never gave up on a book.  Even if a book was not really doin' it for me, I stuck with it, sure that the author was trying to convey something that I just needed to work a little harder to pick up on.  After all, they took the time and care to write the darn thing-I should at least put in the time and effort to finish it.
Then one day (perhaps struck by a growing sense of my own mortality) I decided that there are too many good books in the world to waste my precious reading time on bad ones, and I've put down many a snoozer since.  But not my favorite authors.  Surely if I have loved everything a person has ever written, then if I just keep slogging through one of their books I will find that moment of joy in the written word.  Surely my favorite authors would not let me down?

Laura Lippman, I am sad to say, you've let me down.

Life Sentences is the story of Cassandra Fallows, an author who became successful writing about her father's infidelities and their affect on her.  After writing a less-than-stellar novel, she goes home to Baltimore to mine her childhood friendships for another memoir, something that will take her back to her bestseller status.  The irony is that in writing about an author who is afraid she's lost her mojo, Lippman has written a novel that shows that perhaps her mojo took a bit of a vacation.

The impetus for Cassandra's return to her childhood home is the story of an old schoolmate of hers who went to jail for seven years rather than reveal what happened to her infant, who disappeared and was never found. In revisiting her childhood friendships, Cassandra discovers just how fallible memory can be.  Her old friends are upset with her portrayal of them in print, and they refuse to help her find their old classmate.  Lots of intrigue ensues, revealing a conspiracy that involves politicians, blackmail, and twenty years of secrets.

To which I say "yawn".  Lippman usually pairs really good character development with intriguing plots to create suspense novels that are not formulaic, but little windows into human behavior.  Her novels usually carry some kind of emotional punch, but I found myself not really caring what happened to any of the characters, including the narrator.  I made myself stick with it, partly for the reason above and partly because the mystery was (just) engaging enough to make me want to know how it resolved, but even the ending was a disappointment-more whimper than wow.  Since this Lippman book is a stand-alone, I'd say skip it.  Her Tess Monaghan books and other stand-alones are a much better use of your reading time!

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