Friday, May 29, 2015

Sibling Revelry!

This week is all about siblings in recent literary fiction. Why? Because I've read a lot of these lately and they've been really good. These books will all make you laugh and cry, just like how it is hanging out with your siblings. I myself was an only child until 17, and now I'm the proud eldest of 8. Sure, it's complicated, but what family isn't? I also come from a long line of large families and often find myself drawn to stories in which sibling relationships feature prominently. So, if you also liked Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, check these out:

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

Ann Packer totally nails the siblings' voices and respective roles in their family dynamic, the multiple perspective narrative well employed to this effect. She introduces us to four distinct, authentic siblings: Robert, Rachel, Ryan, and James.  The siblings each tell the story of the tumultuous return of the youngest, James, one by one, from oldest to youngest. They explore their shared past and individually fraught relationships with their distant mother Penny. If this family isn't your family, you at least knew them growing up. They lived on your block, you rode bikes with them. You remember serious Robert, destined to follow in his father's footsteps, protective and concerned Rachel, sensitive Ryan, and "perpetual motion machine" James. It's uncanny.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Elfrieda and Yolandi are closely knit sisters raised in a conservative Mennonite community in Canada. Elf has achieved fame and success as a concert pianist but suffers from the suicidal tendencies that eventually claimed the life of their father and several other family members. Yoli's life a "mess" by contrast, the darkly comic (yes, comic) novel follows her struggle to keep her sister alive through multiple suicide attempts, and to process her own grief, coming to terms with life without her big sister and hero. I know what you're thinking. "But Natalie, this is a book about suicide. Is it really super funny?" It is, you guys. It is super funny, and super, super sad. The bond between the sisters is unbreakable and their love for each other profound. The looming specter of death is met with a sort of fatalist humor that one with a genetic claim to any condition might feel.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill

There are shades of Hal Hartley's Henry Fool, one of my all time favorite movies, in this quirky and dark (yes, Quirkyanddark is my middle name--it's a family name) story about co-dependent and dysfunctional brother-sister twins  growing up stunted and making dubious decisions as they stumble boldly and awkwardly into adulthood, their lives becoming tabloid fodder. Offbeat and philosophical, Nicholas and Nouschka Tremblay, are the twin offspring of oft-imprisoned Quebec celebrity, the "French-Canadian Serge Gainsbourg", √Čtienne Tremblay. Nouschka finds herself growing up and faced with the prospect living without her brother as he begins to get into trouble.

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie Macdonald

"Fiction is not the opposite of truth"--Mary-Rose MacKinnon--

This book wasn't so much about the relationship between siblings but I felt I had to include it because the bond between Mary-Rose and her siblings acted as a sort of anchoring mechanism for our narrator, offsetting her paranoia as she grapples with motherhood and the life of an at-home parent bringing up memories and fears of her own childhood trauma. Memory can be an unreliable narrator, but our siblings knew us when and will always remind us of who we really are.

The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma

This book was really the inspiration for a post about sibling relationships. An outstanding debut, The Fishermen follows four young brothers in this "Cain and Abel-esque" tale set in Akure, Nigeria.

Declaring themselves fishermen, brothers Ikenna, Boja, Benjamin, and Obembe skip school to go fishing in a dangerous nearby river but after an encounter with the town's madman they seemingly succumb one by one to his violent prophecy. Gripping and brutal, balanced with humor and warmth, the brothers are pitch perfect and the fracturing family will break your heart.
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Clare Mitchell

Overheard at the library:
"Natalie said it really picks up after the first suicide." --Kerry P--

(It's funny 'cuz it's true.) This book takes a bit to really get rolling but given a chance this darkly comic tale of a suicide pact between sisters is certainly worth your attention. Written as a sort of joint suicide note/memoir/confessional penned by the three childless Alter sisters, this is a  marvelously witty multi-generational family saga about the "Alter curse,"from late 19th century Germany to New York's Upper West Side today, loosely inspired by the life of the German-Jewish scientist who invented Chlorine gas.

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