THE GIRLS by Lori Lansens

Lansens In April, I started reading The Girls, by Lori Lansens. I’ve had it on my list for a long time, as I found the premise so intriguing – the story of two conjoined twin sisters. And I read another Lansens book, The Wife’s Tale earlier this spring, which I enjoyed. I wasn’t crazy about the ending of The Wife’s Tale, but I loved Lansens’ writing.

I read about half of The Girls – maybe more – and then I put it down. I don’t know why. It wasn’t boring – it was just heavy at times, and had gotten kind of slow at the point where I put it down. And then, I kept leapfrogging other books over it. Well, I finally finished it over the weekend, thanks to a flight from San Francisco. And now here’s my review…

The Girls is about Rose and Ruby Darlen, craniopagus twins born in Ontario during a tornado. They are connected at the side of their heads, which means they live their whole lives without ever looking into each other’s eyes. They share a common blood supply and cerebral tissue, and therefore cannot ever be separated. The Girls is Rose’s autobiography, which she undertakes as her health starts failing in her late 20s. Ruby writes interspersed chapters throughout the book which offer the reader some perspective on how the two sisters are different, and how they often interpret the same events in different ways.

Like many people, I’m sure, I find conjoined twins fascinating. How do they form their own identities – and live their own lives – when they are always connected to another person? As a pair, how do they negotiate individual desires, tastes, and aspirations? Rose and Ruby have their differences, from the mundane (Ruby hates spicy food, Rose sleeps much less than Ruby) to the intrinsic (Rose is private and contemplative while Ruby is direct and open). The Girls explores how they manage to accommodate and challenge each other, while at the same time being completely dependent on each other.

Ultimately, The Girls is a pretty sad book. Rose and Ruby’s lives are difficult from the start, and not just because of their physical situation. Their mother abandons them at birth. And while they are raised in a loving household, they do experience great loss and heartbreak. I have great admiration for Lansens’ writing, which is elegant, descriptive, and economical. (I think her writing is even better in The Wife’s Tale, though I prefer the richness of the story of The Girls.) Lansens is a master at creating characters who are dignified and sympathetic, despite their predicaments (and regardless of whether their predicaments are of their own making). Her depiction of people facing physical challenges – whether obesity or conjoined twindom – is especially powerful.

I am glad that I finally finished The Girls – it was worth the wait and survived the long delay. I’d love to hear from other people who have read it – what did you think?

[Hi FTC – call off your investigation; I bought this one myself. Oh, and I noticed that the rest of you can buy this one yourselves for a very good price on Amazon right now.]

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