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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.]

THE WIFE’S TALE by Lori Lansens

I just finished The Wife's Tale, by Lori Lansens, which is the second book I have read with the Manic Mommies Book Club. (The book club is run by Mari of Bookworm With A View.) The first was April & Oliver, by Tess Callahan.

Lansens I was excited to read this book. I have had Lori Lansens' The Girls on my TBR list for a long time, and have heard good things about it. The Wife's Tale is the story of Mary Gooch, an obese woman living outside Toronto who has been married for 25 years to her childhood sweetheart, Jimmy Gooch. When The Wife's Tale opens, Mary has just been left by Jimmy. The first half of the book explores in great detail Mary's very sad existence – her obsession with food, her self-loathing, her lack of ambition or curiosity about the world, and her inability to communicate with Jimmy. I loved the first half of this book – it was beautifully written, and Lansens did a good job of making Mary – a rather frustrating character – sympathetic. Lansens expertly conveyed the claustrophobia of Mary's life in a way that was interesting and compelling.

Halfway through the book, Mary gets on a plane and flies to LA in search of Jimmy.(WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD). For me, the book went downhill at this point. The second half of the book is Mary's redemption. Her victory over the demons that plagued her in Toronto. Her discovery of her own self-worth and the power of her body. And she is aided in this redemption by a motley crew of characters she meets by happenstance along the way. I found this second half formulaic and predictable, which was in sharp contrast to the uniqueness of the first half. It also was unrealistically compressed into five weeks – too short of a time for the turnaround Mary experiences.

The book does not have a tidy ending, which was fine with me. I was happy for the ambiguity, which mitigated the predictability of the second half. 

Overall, I give this book a positive review. I am definitely glad I read it, and am looking forward to reading The Girls. I would have preferred a grittier second half, but I still enjoyed the book a lot.

Thank you to Little Brown for the review copy (Hi FTC!) and to Mari for organizing the book club.

THE GIRLS by Lori Lansens

I've had my eye on The Girls, by Lori Lansens, for a while now. I picked up a used copy at Half Price Books in Seattle a few months ago, and it's sitting atop my enormous TBR pile, but I haven't broken the spine yet. From Amazon:

Conjoined twins Rose and Ruby Darlen are linked at the side of the head, with separate brains and bodies. Born in a small town outside Toronto in the midst of a tornado and abandoned by their unwed teenage mother two weeks later, the girls are cared for by Aunt Lovey, a nurse who refuses to see them as deformed or even disabled. She raises them in Leaford, Ontario, where, at age 29, Rose, the more verbal and bookish twin, begins writing their story—i.e., this novel, which begins, "I have never looked into my sister's eyes." Showing both linguistic skill and a gift for observation, Lansens's Rose evokes country life, including descriptions of corn and crows, and their neighbors Mrs. Merkel, who lost her only son in the tornado, and Frankie Foyle, who takes the twins' virginity. Rose shares her darkest memory (public humiliation during a visit to their Slovakian-born Uncle Stash's hometown) and her deepest regret, while Ruby, the prettier, more practical twin, who writes at her sister's insistence, offers critical details, such as what prompted Rose to write their life story. Through their alternating narratives, Lansens captures a contradictory longing for independence and togetherness that transcends the book's enormous conceit.

Like many others, I suspect, I have always been fascinated by conjoined twins. This book sounds very compelling. Book Addiction says:

Lansens I fell in love with these two extraordinary women and their story.  Lansens did such an amazing job writing their two voices so distinctly different from one another, and I actually came to enjoy one twin more than the other, which was kind of interesting.  There weren’t a lot of secondary characters in this novel (besides their “parents”, Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash), but the ones that were there played an important part in the book and helped tie everything together. 

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long now, and I’m very glad that I finally got to it.  I can’t say it’s the best book I’ve read or anything, but it is a very sweet and heartwarming story with wonderful characters as well.  I would definitely recommend picking this one up.

Suzi Q at Blogging My Books read this book in 2007 and loved it. She said, "The individuality of Rose and Ruby is clear, and the places where they describe the same experiences with different viewpoints stress that. They even manage to keep some secrets from each other. The relationship between the sisters is fascinating and the book is just beautifully written."

I know I say this about all the books on the TBR list, but I really want to read this one soon.