Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Girls by Lori Lansens

Rose and Ruby were born during a tornado in Canada in 1974. They were also born joined at the head, craniopagus twins. The nurse who assisted with their birth, Aunt Lovey, took them in as her own when their mother skipped town. Rose and Ruby are joined in such a way that they have never seen one another except through mirrors, but Rose says: “I know Ruby’s gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone> I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.”

Rose wants to be a writer and begins penning her memoir before their 30th birthday, with her sister, Ruby, adding her own chapters, when they are told they may not have long to live. Aunt Lovey and her husband, Uncle Stash, have always insisted that the girls have as normal a life as anyone else—Aunt Lovey never let anyone or anything stand in their way and made them both work through any physical limitations. She was also honest with Ruby and Rose about life and didn’t over-protect—I really found her a compelling figure in the novel for her strength and her love. Alternating between Rose and Ruby’s voices, in which they tell stories of their shared life, you realize how much they love each other and how very different they both are.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book—I thought the girls might be sheltered wallflowers or that a novel about two girls joined at the head might be a mere curiosity or exercise is sheer voyeurism. But Lansens brings real depth and emotion to all of her characters in this surprising, touching novel.

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