Monday, January 27, 2014

The Sisters

The Sisters
Nancy Jensen

The Sisters

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from Goodreads):  In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen’s powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.

Review: I wanted to like this book because it's about relationships between sisters and mothers and daughters, and it takes place throughout the last hundred years of US history.  But it just wasn't for me.

It was very well written, with interesting characters and an intriguing story, but it was so sad, so bleak, and ultimately, so depressing to read.  Even when positive things happened to the characters, they managed to be negative or bitter.  Throughout the novel, I kept hoping that the next generation of women would overcome this history of sadness, but time and time again, it just didn't happen.  It's not that I uniformly dislike sad books, it's that there needs to be something positive, some ray of hope or sense of joy, and this book didn't have that.

Each chapter was written from the perspective of a different character some time in the future from the last chapter, and while this was interesting and could have worked well, I found myself wanting more information about each character before the book jumped to the next.  Perhaps if the chapters were longer, or there weren't such big jumps in the timeline, so that I got to know each character better, I would have liked it more?

Rating: 2 stars

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