I liked this book, but I’m not sure why. I love Shakespeare, so the references were fun. I love that the sisters are not the happy puppies or mad betrayers that sisters usually are in literature. Despite their near-allegorical personalities, these women seem more authentic than typical fiction sisters.
Also, I found the plural narrator to be a really dynamic choice. It’s a little dishonest, of course, because it creates the illusion that you know the narrator, when in fact the narrator might be a totally disembodied voice or one that is more sympathetic with one particular sister than with another. But it works. I took it for granted by the end of the novel. However, the rest of the literary tropes Brown uses and the literary chops she has are nothing fabulous. Multiple times I found myself saying things like “well, it’s a stormy night and she’s going to church, must be a baptism or rebirth of some kind…” (translation for 10H-ers: I read about that in Foster!).
However, I’d like to offer four moments from the novel that resonated with me. The values ensconced in these moments are values I find compelling, so I found myself willing to let the author get up on her soapbox. …As long as I could keep hoping for a happily-ever-after.
MOMENT ONE: Bean, reflecting on reading
She remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly, how many books she read in a year. “A few hundred,” she said.
“How do you have the time?” he asked, gobsmacked.
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don’t spent hours flipping through cable complainign there’s nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game, and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in available reflective surfaces? I am _reading_!
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging.
MOMENT TWO: Cordy, reflecting on the power of staying put
Long ago she had thought bravery equaled wandering, the power was in the journey. Now she knew that, for her, it took no courage to leave; strength came from returning. Strength lay in staying.
MOMENT THREE: The priest, offering the “homily” of the novel
We all have stories we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves we are too fat, or too ugly, or too old, or too foolish. We tell ourselves these stories because they allow us to excuse our actions, and they allow us to pass off the responsibility for things we have done–maybe to something within our control, but anything other than the decisions we have made…your story, Bean, is the story of your sisters. And it is past time, I think, for you to stop telling that particular story, and tell the story of yourself…You don’t just have to exist in the empty spaces they leave….”
MOMENT FOUR: Cordy & Bean reflecting on the challenges of staying put
Could you live here forever, Cordy?”
Our sister considered for a moment…It’s no different from anyplace else,” she said finally. “Just on a smaller scale.”
“Much smaller,” Bean said. She pulled her knees up to her chest and laid her cheek against her knee. “Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe here.”
Cordy hesitated for a moment, and then reached over and gently ran the back of her hand along Bean’s bare arm. “That’s not Barnwell,” Cordy said. “That’s you.