December’s pick is a slim, quick read that will leave you feeling as though you’ve read an epic. Sisters, by Lily Tuck, is all about what the narrator doesn’t say. It’s the story of an unnamed woman who is newly married with two step-children she adores. The intrigue comes with the woman’s unwavering obsession with her husband’s ex-wife, to whom he was still married when they met. A subtle nod to du Maurier’s Rebecca, Sisters is the kind of novel we can expect reviewers, booksellers, and readers to be talking about when it hits shelves on the 28 December.
Referring to the ex-wife only as She, or Her, the narrator lives her life with constant reminders of Her. She thinks about Her all the time. She muses on Her happiness. She becomes interested in classical music because She plays the piano. She wants to go to France – even learns to speak French – where She once lived. At one point, the narrator goes to the ex-wife’s apartment to deliver a book for her son; that brief interaction when She opened the door in her tai chi clothes is replayed through her mind time and again.
The husband in the book is always referred to as just that, ‘my husband.’ Whenever he enters her dialogue it is without emotion. He is wealthy, he goes away often on business, he charmed her initially when they met at a dinner party his ex-wife did not attend. Then there are the two step-children. The daughter, educated and elegant and intelligent, who the narrator loves and admires. The son, a maths genius and a drug-user, whose side the narrator takes when he is being lambasted by his father. It seems like the ideal second marriage, in which everyone gets along. But as the narrative moves forward we see cracks appear underneath the sentences, and a darkness creeps into the narrator’s plain, almost-infantile voice. From here, the narrative becomes daring and at times bizarre, leading to a wholly unexpected conclusion that is both subtle and explosive at once.
Sisters has been called ‘A minimalist masterpiece’ by the Boston Globe. It is written in incredibly short chapters, some running only to a few lines. It is perfectly formed. Lily Tuck’s sentences pack a powerful punch; like with Raymond Carver’s work, the meat of the story is all hidden beneath. Publisher’s Weekly called the novel ‘elegant, raw, and powerful’ while the New Yorker called it ‘Enlivening.’ And it is; it’s like drinking a glass of incredibly cold water.
Tuck won the National Book Award in 2004 with novel The News from Paraguay. She is highly acclaimed in the US, where she lives, and with this edition of Sisters from Text Publishing, UK readers can now experience her masterful prose.