Kensington Books. 272 pages. Trade Paperback $15.00.
This spellbinding new novel by the author of Liar’s Bench and GodPretty in the Tobacco Field powerfully blends teenage angst, a rich portrait of the American South, the blessings and curses of twinship, and the inevitably destructive nature of secrets. Ms. Richardson provides rich dosses of sensory imagery, emotional stress, and moral upheaval in the small, rural town of Glass Ferry, Kentucky. This is a town whose residents are at once desirous and fearful of leaving. It’s in their blood, and their blood is in it.
Just as Liar’s Bench links two periods of a town’s history, shuttling between them, much of The Sisters of Glass Ferry oscillates between the years 1952 and 1972, though there is much that extends into later decades. The title’s sisters, Patsy and Flannery, are non-identical twins. While chapters alternate between these temporal settings, they also alternate between the twins as centers of consciousness. Thus, Patsy and Flannery are defined against one another as well as in terms of their relationships with their parents and other characters in the novel.
Patsy, eight minutes older than Flannery, is clearly the mother’s favorite, both for her status as the oldest and her good looks. From the beginning, Flannery learned to defer to her twin – and most of the time she resented it. Their father taught both girls to handle firearms, but he also taught Flannery some of his whisky-making secrets. In a way, he treated her like the boy in the family. (Two infant sons had not survived.)
We meet the sisters as teenagers: Flannery the more subdued and dependable one; Patsy the more impulsive and popular. Flannery doesn’t get to go to the prom; Patsy meets what remains for a while a cloudy fate, her anticipated success as the belle of the ball transformed into tragedy. Her date’s older brother Hollis assaults her; then Patsy and her boyfriend Danny disappear. The girls’ parents are crushed, particularly the mother. She continues to hold birthday parties for her twins, convincing herself that there is a possibility of Patsy showing up. Mrs. Butler’s decline is not remedied by Flannery’s attempts to console her.
Flannery escapes to college and becomes a schoolteacher in Louisville. It comes as no surprise that she marries a controlling, abusive husband. How deftly Ms. Richardson handles this material is a most pleasant surprise, though the details are quite ugly. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in Southern Literary Review, click here: Sisters of Glass Ferry