by Mary Hogan
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
2014 William Morrow Paperbacks
Softcover Edition; 384 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
The third child in a
family that wanted only two, Muriel Sullivant has always been an
outsider. Short, dark-haired and round, she worships her beautiful
blonde sister, Pia, and envies the close bond she shares with their
mother, Lidia. Growing up in their shadow, Muriel believes that if she
keeps all their secrets—and she knows plenty, outsiders always do—they
will love her, too.
But that was a long time ago. Now an adult,
Muriel has accepted the disappointments in her life. With her
fourth-floor walk-up apartment and entry-level New York City job, she
never will measure up to Pia and her wealthy husband, their daughter,
and their suburban Connecticut dream home. Muriel would like nothing
better than to avoid her judgmental family altogether. One thing she
does quite well.
Until the day Pia shows up to visit and share
devastating news that Muriel knows she cannot tell—a secret that will
force her to come to terms with the past and help her see her life and
her family in unexpected new ways.
Two Sisters is one of those books over which I have mixed feelings - first of all, I liked it because it was an easy read, and it definitely hit me on an emotional level, but on another level, I did find it somewhat predictable, and sometimes I thought the author was trying too hard to reason out, and explain, why Muriel felt so unloved rather than just let the reader figure it out themselves through the story.
The plot drew me in, and I found myself turning the pages rather quickly, reading the book in one sitting, although I can't, in hindsight, pinpoint exactly how and why. Perhaps it's Muriel herself who drew me into her story as I just felt so sympathetic towards her and empathized with her so much. She was heartbroken and falling apart, but at the same time there was a will of iron to her that I rather liked and appreciated. I enjoyed her development as a character, one who was no longer going to let her family control, and ruin, her life. But at the same time, as she mentions so often, she couldn't just get rid of her family, they were bound to her through ties that were too deep and she needed to start to face those ties and those relationships in order for her to move on in life. As a teacher, you tend to see so much of the heart-wrenching side of families, and although I know that people don't want to believe that neglect happens in families, emotional neglect happens far too often. It was interesting to see the journey that Muriel would take in order to begin healing.
Muriel is the third child in a family that only wanted two children - the first is a perfect girl, the second is a perfect boy, one for mother and father. Muriel is the intruder into this life, imperfect and always questioning everything, something that perplexes her mother and confuses her father. I found the background to Lidia and Owen's (the parents) story to be quite interesting, and some of the stories of Muriel when she was a child were rather fascinating, as these shaped the person she has become today and gives the reader an insight into her family life and into her family members' personalities. The stories are probably the only thing that prevents the book from being mundane in the first half, until the big bombshell news hits and Muriel's life is thrown upside down by yet another secret, this time from Pia. It's the secrets that drove me nuts though. This is the second book I've read where the big secret has been kept from everyone around them and I don't know what the big secret is, or why. We are never given a plausible reason for the secret and I felt frustrated over the fact as I felt it diminished the book quite a bit. Perhaps it was leverage to start a big 'thing' with Muriel and her mom? I'm not sure, but it made the second half of the book rather flat for me. The only thing I liked was Muriel's meeting with a brother she hasn't seen in years.
Two Sisters is one of those books that makes you question your relationship with your sisters and makes you want to pick up the phone immediately and say, "Hi, Sis. What's up?" It also makes you extremely grateful for the family you have, if you were lucky enough to grow up in a warm, loving household. I liked how Muriel reflected over past scenarios and saw them through an adult's viewpoint in comparison to how she saw them as a child, and understood more about what she had seen and experienced. I did find the first half of the book to be rather slow and thought the stories were the highlight of the first half, and the second half sort of meandered all over the place with no real direction other than a weak focus on forgiveness. And where was the dad in all of this forgiveness? I was satisfied by the ending, but it had nothing to do with her family relationships; it actually had to do with another scenario that I really liked and don't want to give away.