|Photo by zeteticat, via instagram|
One week ago last night, I was sitting with the coconspirator at our favorite STL indie bookstore, Left Bank Books, listening to the lovely and adorable Rebecca Rasmussen read an excerpt from her equally sweet (although with several pinches of bitter) debut novel, The Bird Sisters. I had just completed the novel the night before and was still digesting the story, much as one might sit on a front porch letting a steamy late afternoon fade into the twilight.
It is, as you may have surmised from the title, a story of two sisters. As you read, you can almost hear the tale narrated in your head in the crackling voice of a wise, elderly woman. The novel weaves in and out of the present, in which the sisters are in their late 70s, and the past, a tumultuous summer when they were 14 and 16. The jacket describes the sisters as spinsters, but I don’t believe they’re ever described with that particularly negative word in the novel. It’s true they have grown old together and never married, and we slowly gain a glimpse into why through the course of the story.
Rasmussen writes with tender clarity and soft humor, painting moving vignettes as the past fades in and out of focus.
What they didn’t understand then was that love, or even the play at love, wasn’t the same thing as forgiveness, which was what neither of their parents could offer.
The selfishness in their parents, particularly their father, and their parents’ inability to let go of the past has devastating repercussions for the entire family. Milly and Twiss are both lovable and flawed in very different ways, and they both make surprising sacrifices that seem ridiculous to make, and yet, at the same time, any other choice would have been impossible. Their selflessness, in a sense, alleviates the next generation from suffering the consequences of their parents’ decisions.
Although the sisters live their lives never marrying, which, for women of their time was considered akin to never living at all, they never “end up alone.” They always have each other, and lead full, though very quiet, lives. This is, ultimately, a story about the bonds of familial kinship, which can be stronger and more supportive than the romantic love of fairy tales.