Posts Tagged ‘Lily Tuck’

‘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   


‘The Double Life of Liliane’ by Lily Tuck

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ by Lily Tuck   (2015) – 238 pages


‘The Double Life of Liliane’ is a largely autobiographical work by Lily Tuck that also contains many black-and-white pictures of her family and friends during her childhood years, yet on its back cover are the words “A Novel”.  Her life story makes most of our own life stories seem insufferably plain and dull in comparison.

Liliane was born just before World War II, and both of her parents were from Germany.  Her father, being a movie producer, travels with an international set, and he happens to be in France just before the Nazi takeover but without a passport.  This is critical, because he does have Jewish ancestors in his background although they have converted to Lutheranism.  The dancer Josephine Baker helps him get a passport and escape France just before the Nazi takeover.

Liliane’s mother has Jewish relatives in her background also.  She has beauty such that she is often compared to Great Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.  She and Liliane wound up spending the war years in Peru far from Germany.

I had never considered before the plight of the millions of people who had just one Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent.  There must have been all these gradations of Jewishness that would cause widespread fear and panic among the general population.

After the war, Liliane’s father and mother are together for a short time, but then they divorce with the mother and Liliane in New York and the father off producing movies in Italy.  The mother soon remarries.  The double life for Liliane is her cross-Atlantic arrangement set up by her parents.  In an early chapter of the novel, we have 9-year-old Liliane traveling by herself on an airplane from New York to Italy to stay with her father.   In Italy she watches first-hand the fast set of movie stars, directors, producers, and others.

As the novel progresses, the girl Liliane turns into a young woman with adventures of her own.  Through her father she has lunch with the Italian writer Alberto Moravia who relates some of his times while married to the writer Elsa Morante.

Lily Tuck doesn’t overplay her hand by trying to make the events in the novel seem more exciting or glamorous than they really were.  She downplays her childhood experiences if anything, since they are colorful enough as is. This is in contrast to what frequently happens with memoirs.  When someone writes about their own life, they often get so caught up in telling their story that they forget to entertain.  Thus memoirs can be deadly for the reader.

‘The Double Life of Liliane’ is another example of the recent mode of blending fiction with non-fiction on the order of  W. G. Sebald or Karl Ove Knausgaard.  I am somewhat skeptical of the results of this Reality trend, but in ‘The Double Life of Liliane’, the reader is not forgotten.  Even though the story treads very closely to the author’s life, it is told with the zest and creativity of fiction.

Grade:   B+

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