It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I began to wish for a sister, someone who knew everything there was to know about me and my family and loved me anyway, someone to sympathize with as we watched our kids grow up and our parents grow old, someone who would always be part of me no matter what happened to our other relationships. After years of flaunting my “only child-ness” like a lonely badge of honor, having a sibling suddenly seemed quite appealing
So I love novels about sibling relationships – well, you all know I love novels about family relationships of any kind. Character driven novels that focus on family are my literary loves.
Julia Glass works wonders with those kinds of novels. Her first two efforts, Three Junes and The Whole Wolrd Over, are great favorites, and have not only been read (and re-read!) but also listened to in audio book format. I love her use of language, the way she sees right into the hearts of her characters and plumbs their emotions.
“Relationships between adult siblings fascinate me,” Glass said, referring to her first novel, National Book Award Winner, Three Junes, in an interview with BookPage magazine. “I wanted there to be a reflection of the truism that every child in a given family has a different childhood. But I also really wanted it to be about how we live past heartbreak, heartbreak that we’re never going to get over, heartbreak that will be stratified in our hearts forever. For each of these characters there is a loss that is in a way irredeemable, but also one that he or she can get through and live beyond in a full way.”
She explores many of these ideas again in I See You Everywhere, her latest novel which hones in on the lives of Louisa and Clement Jardine, sisters whose complicated relationship has been fraught with conflict, yet also filled with love.
Louisa and Clem are almost anti-thetical, which is something that just fascinates me about sisters. How can two people sprung from the same loins so to speak, be so entirely different? Louisa is the archetypal eldest – a little prim and proper, very conscientious, who yearns for a good marriage and a family. She dabbles in pottery, but makes a living writing articles for a popular art magazine. Clement could be on a poster marked “wild thing.” A wildlife biologist and researcher, she’s radical in her beliefs, passionate about her causes, and not one bit interested in personal commitment. Yet, as so often happens, Clem becomes the “favored child,” something that can’t help but rankle with Louisa, who tries so hard but never quite stands out with Clem’s brilliance.
Glass literally weaves her story around these two women and their lives over a period of about 20 years. If I were to have a complaint about this novel, it’s that it occasionally becomes difficult to find yourself in the “warp and woof” of the pattern. In the early pages, the sisters speak in turns within the chapters, and I occasionally did a double take before I realized that the narrator had changed. Mid way through, Glass separated the narratives into identified sections, and by that time I had come to know each woman’s personality a bit better and could discern right away who was speaking.
But this structure fits the theme so well – at one point Louisa refers to the bond she shares with her sister as “like a double helix, two souls coiling around a common axis, joined yet never touching.” Even though they “have about as much in common as white chocolate and seaweed,” the bond between them is irrevocable.
Not surprisingly, I identifed with Louisa, for I admit to being the “good girl” amongst my friends and the multitude of cousins. I also admit to a twinge of envy for those girls (and now women) who aren’t afraid of their “wilder side,” are fearless when it comes to bucking tradition and danger.
I still want to be the benevolent tyrant,” Louisa thinks. “I want to outshine her, I want to be the wiser, the smarter, the better loved, but I want to keep an eye on her. She is, after all, irreplaceable.
Yes, it would have been good to have a sister.
by Julia Glass
published by Pantheon, October 2008