Two sisters who shared everything. One unforgivable moment.
And a second chance...There's something to talk about in every chapter of Elizabeth Joy Arnold's poignant, insightful debut novel--the perfect summer read for all those who loved Elisabeth Robinson's The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, Judy Blume's Summer Sisters, and Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper.
Once, Kerry and Eve Barnard did everything together: sailing the Block Island harbor with their father, listening to their neighbor Justin's magical fairy tales, and all the while longing for their absent mother. They were twin girls arm in arm, secrets entwined between two hearts. Until the summer of their seventeenth birthday, when their extraordinary bond was shattered. And thirteen years later, it will take all the courage they can summon to put the pieces back together--at a time when it matters most....
Arnold's winning debut centers on a pair of identical twins, Kerry and Eve Barnard, who once had one face, one body, one friend (Justin) and any number of abandonment issues. Having been left by their mom at age seven, the still-smarting sisters are crushed when, 10 years later, their father drowns off the coast of their small Block Island, R.I. town. Though they've no one else to turn to but each other, the twins quickly drift apart; introspective Kerry clings to Justin, a few years their senior, and dreams of a future with him. Eve, a competitive flirt, schemes to win Justin for herself--while also pursuing a congressman and a police officer. The framing narrative finds Kerry looking back at the fateful summer from 13 years on and, while Eve is dying of cancer, struggling to face her sister and find peace for them both. It sounds confusing, but debut novelist Arnold never loses control of the complex interplay between past and present. Though a touch melodramatic, this well-observed story is vibrant and rich with the subtleties and nuances of family life; fans of Luanne Rice should clear a space in their beach totes. (Aug.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Pieces of My Sister's Life by Elizabeth Joy Arnold
I GLANCED DISCREETLY at the wall clock above the ballet barre. Estella Baker had been holding me imprisoned in the YMCA dance studio for the past half hour, talking about everything from her grand-nephew to her gout. Every week after class she'd thank me for the lesson, and then reminisce about some scene from her youth that the taped music had brought to mind. I let her because I assumed she had no one else to talk to, and I knew what sort of poison loneliness could be.
Five-thirty. Shit. By the time I got home it would already be dark out, and I hated walking in the dark. Walking alone at night was like lying in bed waiting for sleep: there was nothing to distract you from yourself.
"Hessie's always been narsistic," Estella said. "Narsistic, is that the word? I seem to be losing my vocabulary lately. You know she's had her breasts done." She pulled a tissue from the arm of her leotard, dabbed at her nose and then tucked it back inside.
I gave her a polite smile. When I'd come up with the idea of teaching dance, I'd pictured a class full of women who looked like belly dancers, with long dark hair and perfect waists, women who, like me, had once imagined they'd grow up to be dancers but had never managed to get past the imagining stage. Instead what I got was a class of ladies in their sixties, wearing leotards that bulged in odd places, who had about as much grace as overstuffed sofas. It was okay, though. They were very appreciative.
"Well, they sure don't look done," I said, since she was obviously expecting disdain. "Maybe they're a work in progress."
"I know!" Estella said. "They're so tiny. You know she had her arms done, too? Her arms!"
When she'd gone I threw a dress on over my leotard, pulled on a pair of sneakers and jogged the twelve blocks home. The streets were crowded with tourists deciding where to eat, mostly young couples alone or burdened with strollers and diaper bags. Cities were made for couples. Go to a restaurant or movie and I'd be stared at, whereas on the island single people were embraced, befriended, invited to join. Here I didn't even like calling for pizza; I was sure the delivery boy pictured me scarfing down the whole pie, wallowing in grease.
I climbed the stairs and locked the inside of my apartment: doorknob, deadbolt, chain. After thirteen years, I still hadn't gotten used to the idea of such surplus safeguards. On the island we'd leave home with our windows and door open wide to vent the dead inside air. In this city you weren't safe unless you fastened a trip wire to the entrance and connected the other end to a hydrogen bomb.
The message light was blinking on the answering machine. I was pretty sure I knew who was calling. Seth Powell lived downstairs. We'd met in the elevator last month and he'd latched onto me immediately, and since he was a single man in a city without any single men, I'd let him latch. He was funny, and cute enough, and we kissed on the first date because sometimes you just want to be kissed by a funny, cute enough guy. But he was also the type of man who called me "babe" and wore red and blue makeup to Patriots games. A prototype of too much testosterone, who in cave days would've pounded his chest at cave women and fathered hundreds of cave children. I sighed and poured a glass of wine.
I wanted to be alone. I'd been out all week attending a training seminar for my "real job" at U.S. Trust Investments, basically just videos and exercises teaching us how to scam strangers. We'd tell them we were born in their town, had graduated from their alma mater. We'd hear a baby in the background and use this to direct our next line of attack: A boy or a girl? How old is he or she? You know I have a son or daughter just exactly that age? And how wonderful it is for me knowing I've already invested in his or her future.
I was real good at casual lying. I'd had skillful teachers in my past. "So sorry," I'd tell Seth, "but I'm seeing someone else." And the truth was I did have plans with this Chianti: full-bodied, Italian and dependable. All you could ask for in a date.
I turned on the CD player to Norah Jones, who, regardless of reality, always managed to make me feel better about myself. We're alone, the music seemed to say, and we're all we have, but also we're kind of cool. . . . So armed, I started the answering machine. I listened to silence for nearly a minute as I studied the buttons, sure I'd done something wrong. But then came the voice.
The glass slipped from my hand and shattered, leaving a full-bodied, Italian, dependable stain on the rug.
"It's your number, isn't it? I mean, of course it's you." He cleared his throat, spoke slower, deeper. "
This is Justin . . . Caine. I need to speak with you about something important, something I can't leave in a message."
I backed away, staring at the machine.