Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Girls by Lori Lansens

I usually avoid “issue” books: Breast cancer, children with leukemia, stories about kidnapping or deaths of young people. It often seems to me like the authors of these books are just chasing trends in order to drum up readership, or that the books rely more on the shock value of the subject matter than the quality of the writing or creativity of the story. I realize that I am generalizing here, and that many good writers have successfully tackled “issues" like these. I’m just telling you my initial reaction when I hear about these kinds of books. Thus, I was originally put off by the idea of The Girls, a story of conjoined twins, but something made me try it, and I’m very glad I did.

Ruby and Rose Darlen are craniopagus twins, joined at the side of the head, who can never be separated because of the structure of the blood supply to their (separate) brains. Raised by the hospital nurse who adopted them after their horrified teenage mother abandoned them shortly after their birth, they live to adulthood in a small town in Canada, enjoying what must be the most normal life possible for people in such unique circumstances.

The story unfolds in memoir form, first through the voice of Rose, then eventually alternating with chapters from Ruby. At age 29 when the story begins, they are already the oldest surviving craniopagus twins on record, and their health is deteriorating. The memoir is an attempt to describe their life, and their relationship with one another, before they die. Lansens uses convincingly different voices for Rose and Ruby, without creating a distraction.

The book is at times funny, and very moving. Lansens does an extraordinary job of illustrating their lives and the difficulties they face without making it seem like a freak show. Rose and Ruby are brave, resourceful, stubborn, fearful, vulnerable; in short they are real, individual people. And at its heart, this book is the story of the love that these sisters share for one another. It’s a bond that is both typical of that shared by all sisters, and yet entirely unique.

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 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 thousands lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.

Really interesting, really good. Read it.

(Book 26, 2007)


Kathleen said...

Thanks I added that to my To Read list (which is REALLY long.) I actually like those kinds of books (issues). Oh and I used to read a book a week or more too but it's harder now that I have two young children!

Anonymous said...

I am listening to the audio version of this book and I am really enjoying it. The Rose part is read by Stephanie Zimbalist and Ruby is read by Lolita Davidovich. I thought it would be a little boring but I was pleasantly surprised!

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