The Girls by Lori Lansens

The Girls by Lori Lansens

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade; mass market in December 2007), 345 pages, 2006

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: I read Barbara Gowdy’s collection of similarly-themed short stories, We So Seldom Look on Love, but I didn’t feel like it did the topic justice.

Synopsis: The Girls is the story of conjoined twins, Rose and Ruby, one of which, Rose, decides it’s time to write down their autobiography with the occasional input of the less-interested Ruby. Approaching thirty, they’re already the world’s oldest conjoined twins, and the medical ramifications are quite poor, so Rose wants to let the world know all that they’ve missed out on through their extremely unusual life – and also all that they’ve gained and enjoyed.

Why you should read this book: If you don’t find yourself completely in love with Ruby and Rose, you’d be doing yourself a favour by getting to a doctor and making sure your heart is still intact, because these characters simply shine off of the page. With great sensitivity, Lansens writes about their lives, including the sorrows that such an odd existence is sure to bring (never mind the logistics of getting around in every day life), as well as a touching closeness – sometimes more and sometimes less than each girl imagines it to be. There are a great number of poignant questions asked, directly or indirectly, that bring the reader pause: how to have privacy and a life of one’s own, especially in the wretched teen years, for example. A story is still able to emerge from the never-mundane day-to-day details as we get a full sense of these sisters, these ‘monsters,’ these best friends.

Why you should avoid this book: Come prepared with Kleenex, because just when you think the sisters have settled into their existence, you know something’s bound to go wrong. There are points where the story feels a little overblown; but how could it not, given the characters?

Opening paragraph:

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.

Fabulous quotes:

Aunt Lovey tied a sweater around my waist to hide the bloodstain on my tan shorts and said, ‘Well, welcome to womanhood, Rose Darlen.’ Uncle Stash could not meet my eye. He patted my shoulder and muttered, ‘Sorry,’ as though it was his fault.
I was too miserable to appreciate the moment of transformation, and too aware of what I was to imagine my womanhood meant much more than further inconvenience. We watched an ailing tiger swat flies with his tail, then I quietly asked if we could go home.
Ruby cried in her dreams that night. I wanted to shake her awake and tell her that I’d give anything to be like her and have delinquent ovaries and never get my period, but it wasn’t precisely true, and I said untrue things to Ruby only when I was sure she would believe them.

Our birthday is in three weeks. I know about the surprise party. All the notes passed back and forth – what did Ruby think I’d think? Did she really think I wouldn’t notice? (Of course I’ll act surprised, and she’ll never know I knew.) I can think of many things I’d rather do for our birthday, though. In fact, I hate the idea of a surprise party. I know Ruby just means to be sweet. Ruby never expected to turn thirty, but I have expected to beat the odds. And I don’t just want to make it to my surprise party. I want to live to see Christmas and Easter and spring and summer all over again.
Maybe I’m superstitious. I find that I’m reluctant to talk about what to do with our stuff, and I’ve been especially indisposed to discussing our effects and remains. I fear that once these things have been decided, my body will just quit. I have this strange sense that the thing in my brain has a mind of its own, and I imagine it’s vindictive too. I don’t want to make it angry. I don’t want it to know I have my ducks in a row. I don’t want it to think I’m ready to go.
I’m not.

Also recommended: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides; We so Seldom Look on Love by Barbara Gowdy; The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy.

Also by this author: Rush Home Road.

Would I read more by this author? Absolutely – I loooved the characters in The Girls.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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