Sisters share a special bond that is a mixture of love, envy, competition and support. This bond has been explored in numerous novels, notable examples being Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and of course Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona. Typically, the older sister is the more upstanding of the two, while the younger sister is often portrayed as a rebellious upstart.
Two novels that feature sisters in tumultuous relationships have recently been published. Both are rather off-beat, and both are very, very good.
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld is about twin sisters who have “senses” a psychic ability to predict events before they happen. Vi embraces this gift and works as a medium, living an eccentric life, while Kate has chosen to hide her gift, and has settled down as a suburban wife and mother of two. I was skeptical at first about this premise, but the paranormal aspect is downplayed and the book turns out to be a richly emotional story about family obligation and acceptance. Vi and Kate’s relationship is complex and they are often at odds with each other, but deep down there is this loving bond that holds them together. Written in a breezily witty style, Sisterland is funny, serious, thought-provoking and very enjoyable.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the latest book by Karen Joy Fowler (author of The Jane Austen Book Club). Rosemary and Fern are sisters separated at an early age under mysterious circumstances, and Rosemary has never truly recovered emotionally. As she narrates the events, Rosemary starts in the middle of the story as a troubled college student trying to understand her traumatic past. Through flashbacks and investigative work, Rosemary slowly makes sense of her life, and the reader slowly comes to realize Fern is not the sister we expected her to be. In fact, Fern is a chimpanzee. Rosemary’s father was an eccentric psychologist who raised her and Fern together as sisters as part of a research study. This is an intriguing book about an unusual sister-like relationship.
Admittedly, psychic and chimpanzee characters make for off-beat reading. Be adventurous and give these books a try. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.