Sisters by Lily Tuck

sistersIn Sisters, an unnamed narrator lives with her husband and his two teenage/young adult children. She becomes obsessed with his first wife, whom she cannot stop thinking about, and who lurks over everything she does, from her interactions with her stepchildren to the simple tasks of her daily life.

What I loved about this book:

The prose was lovely. The story unfolds in short, vignette-like moments–sometimes only a sentence, sometimes a few paragraphs. It jumps around in time in a way that was never confusing, but mirrored perfectly how a person’s mind moves about through the course of a day. The main character’s  musings and mediations were both beautifully written and insightful. There was a lovely balance between moments of introspection and analysis and moments that played out in scene, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about them.

I liked how quiet this book was. Not much happens, but Tuck perfectly captures many of the ordinary moments that make up a marriage. The details were specific enough to make it feel like a particular story, but the subject matter was also quite general–in some ways, the narrator could have been any woman struggling with self-doubt in a second marriage.

The audiobook was fantastic. The meandering, internal, and journal-like nature of this book was well-suited to audio, and Gabra Zackman does a fantastic job with the narration. She beautifully brings to life the the sparse, clipped prose. Her reading was so authentic and natural that it felt like slipping into the mind of the main character, rather than listening to a book. Upon reading some reviews after finishing the novel, I learned that she–which is the only way the narrator refers to her husband’s ex-wifeis always italicized in the text. Zackman conveys this beautifully; the mixture of distance, contempt, jealously, and curiosity that the narrator feels for this woman comes through each time Zackman utters the word she.

Overall I thought this novel was only middling, but the audio kept me captivated. I did not want to stop listening. It heightened my enjoyment of the book and raised my overall opinion of it.

What I did not love about this book:

It was quite short, and despite some beautiful prose and interesting meditations on married life, it felt empty. Not much happens until the very end. That in itself didn’t bother me, but I was left feeling a bit lost, like I wasn’t quite sure how we’d got there. I enjoyed the main character’s thoughts and musings, but they did not give me a good sense of who she was.

Why is she so obsessed with her husband’s ex-wife? Why, for that matter, is she married to her husband? She tells us in perfect detail what she ate at the dinner party where she and her husband met, but I could not figure out why she loved him. She remains aloof for so much of the novel that I had trouble parsing her motivations. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t understand her. It was hard to make an emotional connection with her, and through her, with the story itself.

I also struggled to find the “so what?” in this book. Not every book has to have some larger meaning to be enjoyable or worthwhile, but I felt like this one should have made me feel or think or experience something that I didn’t. Perhaps it just wasn’t for me, or I wasn’t paying enough attention, or I didn’t sit with it long enough. There was a lot going on underneath the surface, but I found it hard to connect with.

This one falls solidly in the  middle for me, but if you’re looking for a short, engaging audiobook, or if you enjoy novellas, I think you’ll find something to love here.

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