Lori Lansens,
The Girls
(Little, Brown & Co., 2006)

Rose and Ruby are the oldest surviving craniopagus twins, tied together by a vital vein in their heads. As their 30th birthdays approach, Rose sets out to write her memoir, asking Ruby to contribute chapters. As you read this mesmerizing life history, you'll have to stop to remind yourself that this is fiction, that you aren't reading a true tale of sisterhood and found families.

Rose writes, "So many things I've never done, but oh, how I've been loved. And, if such things were to be, I'd live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially." The sisters are blessings and curses to one another. When they were born, their unwed mother was so shocked by what appeared from her body that she fled the hospital, abandoning them in the care of their nurse, who raised them as her own. Doctors suggested that Ruby, the smaller, parasitic twin with clubfeet, be sacrificed for the health of Rose. When Aunt Lovey refused to do so, the family was forsaken by their church. Rose has carried Ruby around their entire life. If one consumes alcohol, the other feels its effects. Each has different dietary desires, but if one gets ill, the other will suffer the restrictions of being sick, too.

As adults, Rose and Ruby have made a life for themselves working at the town library. They each have separate jobs, but are co-located on one another's shifts. When Rose needs a mental health day, Ruby has to miss her shift, too. Ruby enjoys working with children and answering their questions about her lifestyle and medical history.

The memoir is created by Rose, who fancies herself the intellectually superior twin. She has to push Ruby (the prettier twin) to contribute chapters, and she constantly worries that Ruby is just rambling and repeating herself, not creating a narrative. Lori Lansens presents each sister's chapters in different fonts, and their voices are distinctive. Certainly Rose is a superior memoirist in a traditional sense, but Ruby brings an essential perspective about their relationship and the anecdotes Rose considered unworthy of mention. Certain tales are told from both (contrasting) perspectives.

The Girls is a beautiful book about sisterhood, friendship and family ties, set in a nontraditional family. Fans of this book also will enjoy Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
11 November 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.