Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova (Luxury Reading)
With two successful memoirs under her belt, author Cassandra Fallows stumbles in her feeble attempt at fiction. Hearing the name Calliope Jenkins (Callie) on her hotel room television, Cassandra decides that she will find the girls she was friends with in grade school and write about how their lives have changed over the years. More precisely, she will anchor the new memoir around Callie who spent seven years in prison for contempt of court after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of her young son.
Everyone was convinced that Callie killed her child and hid the evidence, but the body was never found and Callie kept mum.Cassandra arrives in her hometown of Baltimore intent on uncovering Callie’s story and finding a direction for her memoir. However, no one seems particularly delighted about dredging up old bygones and her former friends are not the willing participants her father was for the first memoir. Gloria, Callie’s first lawyer, does not return Cassandra’s calls. Teena, the detective on the case, left the force after failing to extract any information from Callie. The social worker who was supposed to monitor Callie and her newborn drove into a tree, which some chocked up to an accident and others to a suicide. Callie herself is nowhere to be found.
As she digs deeper and works against the tide of resistance, Cassandra discovers facts that not only affect her future memoir, but also what she thought she knew of her own childhood. She learns that certain truths she held as absolute are nothing more than elaborate ruses kept up to spare her feelings and that revelations about the past that seem like catastrophes at first do very little to change the present.
Based on a true story of a missing child and a silent mother and padded by fictionalized events, Life Sentences effectively explores the fallibility of human memory. Cassandra is certain that her memoirs are factually accurate, a sentiment not shared by her childhood friends. The disparities are compounded by the racial divide (Cassandra is white, her friends are African-American) which is painfully obvious to her friends, but largely absent from Cassandra’s awareness. While the racial divide figures prominently in the book jacket description, it is really a minor part of the novel.
The beginning chapters of Life Sentences, each about a different character, were difficult to follow. At times, it felt like there were entirely too many characters — first lawyer, second lawyer, detective, detective’s former colleague, Cassandra’s three friends, her current lover, her new lover, and so on — and I found myself flipping back the pages to see if a particular character was already discussed, and if so, who he or she was. When the individuals’ lives were folded together and the characters became more familiar, the story became more manageable and also enjoyable.
Despite the various issues covered in Life Sentences, the overreaching question for me was always, “Where is the baby?” Memory errors and race problems aside, I thought it was this mystery that kept me interested and that drove the plot.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Avon A. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.