‘Sisters’ by Lily Tuck – “First and second wives are like sisters.”

 

‘Sisters’ by Lily Tuck   (2017) – 150 pages

If you ever read ‘Sisters’, I can guarantee you it will be one of the quickest novellas you have ever read.  It is only 150 pages, and there is a lot of white space in those pages.  At the same time it is an elegant witty performance based on the following premise which is stated in the novel’s epigraph:

“First and second wives are like sisters.” – Christopher Nicholson (Winter)

In the old days, it was not unusual for a man to marry his wife’s younger sister after his wife died.  Lily Tuck gives several examples of this phenomenon including Jane Austen’s brother Charles.  Although our first-person heroine narrator here in ‘Sisters’ is not a real sister to her husband’s ex-wife and the ex is not dead, she considers that there is a sisterly connection between them.

“And we don’t look alike.  She is blonde, fair-skinned, big-boned, and taller than I.  I have also seen photos of her as a young woman, and I have to admit she was lovely.  Truly.” 

This woman is clearly obsessed with her husband’s ex.  She calls the ex from a phone booth, so the call cannot be traced.  Phone booths are another object that is almost obsolete today like typewriters and film and cassettes.  The new wife gets chances to hear about and see the ex through the son and daughter from that previous marriage.

‘Sisters’ is filled with literary and other allusions which I always enjoy in a novel.  These references have a collage effect similar to that of the works of David Markson.  However, Markson’s allusions are more scattered while Lily Tuck’s allusions always fit into the context of the story in this short novella.

“Once while we were making love my husband called out her name instead of mine.”

‘Sisters’ is much more nasty and erotic than Jane Austen ever could be, and there is a surprising risqué twist at the end of ‘Sisters’.

Elegant, witty, literary, risqué, short.  How could a novella be any better than that?

 

Grade:   A   

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds like a good one for Novellas in November… I can’t remember who runs that… do you know?

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  2. I have an example of a wife marrying her dead husband’s younger brother in my family so maybe there could be a follow up book called Brothers…..

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    • Hi Booker Talk,
      I don’t know why that seems so very much more unusual to me than the sisters thing. Not that this is in any way related, but I was just reading about Gloria Grahame, one of the great actresses of the 1950s. She married director Nicholas Ray in 1948. She was reportedly caught in bed in 1951 with the 13 year old son of Ray’s from a previous marriage which caused her divorce from Ray. Then she remarried. However her next marriage was to that Tony Ray who was her stepson she knew from before. That was her longest marriage. They are making a movie about Gloria Grahame’s life starring Annette Benning called ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ coming out this November.

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