Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Girls by Lori Lansens

Rose & Ruby Darlen are 29 years old. They are the world’s oldest surviving craniopagus twins - which means that they are conjoined at the head. The mesh of veins, muscle and tissue that holds them together means their health has always been precarious, and now Rose learns of a fatal aneurism in her brain which will kill them both, in time.

So she decides to write the story of their lives. Rose is the artistic twin, the physically stronger and more facially deformed, and Ruby is the weaker, prettier one who takes pleasure in television and hunting for ancient Native American relics in their backyard. The two are destined to do everything together, even be considered by the public as one person (which they hate), and yet they've never looked into each others eyes. They grow up being looked after by their 'Aunt' Lovey; the kind and stubborn nurse who delivered them into the world and adopted them when their mother disappeared; and their ‘Uncle’ Stash, Lovey’s Slovakian migrant husband.

Rose’s writing is whimsical and nostalgic; she casts a spell over her life story and enchants it with magic moments and foreshadowing signs. She romanticizes a lot, even though she accuses her sister Ruby of being the one with her head in the clouds. Ruby gets her say too, though – Rose’s chapters are irregularly punctuated by Ruby’s shorter, more to-the-point submissions. Ruby writes on yellow legal paper (as opposed to Rose’s clattering laptop typing), and prefers to write about the present day and what their daily life is like, rather than telling stories of their past.

The girls’ story is tainted with tragedy, loss and misunderstanding; yet there is hope. It is also a story of incomprehensible love, the intense relationship of sisters, and, in short, life. Rose and Ruby Darlen’s ‘life story’ involves very little travel from their small town in Ontario, spans only 30 years and doesn’t include a huge array of characters… yet it is a huge story. Two huge stories. I think Lansens was making the point that every life is a big story. Life itself is the ultimate story; snaking and weaving through existence; and we should all feel the weight of our own value and our own stories. Each molecule of each of us is important. I think that’s what The Girls was getting at, ultimately. And it’s a message that is depicted beautifully by Lansens’ perfect blend of the twee and the raw, finding meaning in the small things and illuminating them with subtle tones.

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