Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sisters

I just finished reading this first novel by Nancy Jensen. It begins with the story of two young sisters in a small town in Kentucky, in the 1920s. Their mother has died and they are living with an abusive stepfather. When Mabel notices the stepfather eyeing her younger sister Bertie, she makes plans for their escape following Bertie's eighth grade graduation. But things go awry, of course, and the stepfather ends up dead, Mabel and Bertie's beau have skipped town, and the sisters are forever separated. Bertie is left behind, betrayed and confused (an explanatory  letter to her is never delivered). The story mostly follows the life of Bertie, which plays out in depressing fashion, and her subsequent  marriage, children, grandchildren.  It's kind of an uneven story, as the story focuses almost entirely on Bertie and not much at all on Mabel, who eventually becomes a photographer and even appears on 60 Minutes (Bertie even hears Mabel's voice on the television, but never follows up or even looks to see who is talking).  In a lot of ways it is a very frustrating book, because their estrangement is all due to a misunderstanding and you are always saying, "open that letter," "ask some questions," but they never do. Bertie says late in the book, "Something can happen to change your life so sudden, you can't ever get over it fast enough. And so you do things you wouldn't ever have thought of doing. Maybe hurt other people. And that changes things for them, too, all in a line." And so the the unhappiness and bitterness just keeps rolling through the generations. I had hopes for the story, it's readable, and the characters are depressingly real, but in the end I didn't like it very much. Their unhappiness was just too much. You keep waiting for them to overcome, but it just never happens.

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