Monday, February 18, 2013

Sisterhood is....Melodramatic?

I am fortunate to have three wonderful brothers whom I love dearly, but I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to have a sister. Since my women friends are so important to me, I have imagined that a sister would be like a very very good friend, but even closer because of growing up together and because of the family bond. So I have been a little bit envious of my friends who have sisters. Some of them are very close to those sisters, sharing experiences and supporting each other through the years. Others are not so close, with various rivalries and differences dividing them. In any case, I find the topic of sisterhood a very appealing one in novels, so I thought I would enjoy Lucinda Rosenfeld’s “The Pretty One” (Little, Brown, 2013). It is in fact a fairly enjoyable novel, as light entertainment, but its problem is that it is too much ABOUT sisterhood, with capital letters. Its tagline, written almost as a subtitle on the cover, is “A Novel about Sisters,” and the novel itself is too explanatory of that relationship, in a schematic, predictable way. Three sisters are at the same time close and competitive, and each has her own label, given to her by their mother early on, and perpetuated into the sisters’ thirties, their current age in the book. Perri is the organized, traditionally successful one with the good job, husband and three children, and beautiful home in the suburbs. Pia is “the pretty one” of the title, but has trouble in both her work life and her love life, never being able to settle down to one job or one man. The youngest, Gus, is a successful family rights lawyer and activist, and a lesbian whose partner has left her. In a short period of time, the three sisters and their parents go through various dramatic (actually melodramatic, in a sort of breathless, OMG style) crises and problems that test and even threaten the sisters’ relationships to each other. Or at least that is the ostensible import of these events, but at no point is it even a little believable that the sisters will become estranged, or that any of the problems that arise will be serious enough to permanently harm any of them. A couple of flirtations, a couple of job problems, some halfhearted speculation about the father of Pia’s young daughter, Gus’ short lived fling with a man … none of these comes to much after all. Even when there is a revelation toward the end of the novel about a suddenly appearing new family member, there is very little of the shock and angst one might expect; the person is unrealistically easily absorbed into the family. Perhaps the novel does make some points about sisterhood, family bonds, family problems, and the truism that family trumps everything else, but these points are made too explicitly, too predictably, and worst of all, in a sort of lukewarm style that makes the reader feel that even the author’s heart wasn’t completely in this story.

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