By Lori Lansens
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Price: $16.29 @ Amazon.com
UW Library? Yes
Reading Katherine Dunn's Geek Love (about a group of children bred by their parents to become circus freaks) many years ago so undid me emotionally that I've never been able to read anything even remotely similar. (I know, I know: Not only have I probably missed a lot of good books, but Geek Love is many people's favorite novel. Still, John Irving is about the furthest I go on quirky characters.) There's just no way I would have picked up Lori Lansens's The Girls except that a good friend (whose suggestions I value) told me that she was pretty sure I'd really like it. So, despite the subject matter (conjoined twins) and with great trepidation, I began the book. Reader, I loved it. From the first paragraph you know you've begun something very special:
I have never looked into my sister's eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I've never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I've never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I've never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I've never done, but oh, how I've been loved. And, if such things were to be, I'd live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.
Rose and Ruby Darlen more or less take turns telling their story (Rose writes more), from their birth during a freak tornado, to their experiences growing up in a small Ontario town with the couple they call Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash (who took them in when their mother abandoned them). The girls share a vein and are joined at the side of their heads (they're known as craniopagus twins), so they can never be separated. Because Ruby's legs never fully developed, Rose, who has a normal body, must carry her. But - and this is Lansens' great achievement - we soon come to see that what appears to us abnormal, extraordinary, and very disturbing from the outside looking in is simply the way things are, on the inside looking out. For Rose and Ruby, their lives are normal, ordinary, and quite acceptable. In a funny way, they go their own ways - they even have different jobs at the local library. Rose gives birth to a baby. They must face their own deaths. Lovey, surely one of the most wonderful aunts in literature (right up there with Auntie Mame), believed "that all ordinary people led extraordinary lives, but just didn't notice."
Rose and Ruby understand the obverse of that, and, because of this extraordinary novel, so do we.
I skipped some assigned readings to find the time to finish this luminous novel. Thanks, Nancy, for letting us publish your review from Pearl’s Picks on nancypearl.com. Nancy also recommends reads every Monday at 2:50 pm on The Beat on KUOW 94.9 FM.–The Editor