First published in 2005
This edition: Virago, 2007
The cover designer/photographer is unknown
Born in Canada during a tornado, Rose and Ruby Darlen are brought into the world by their young, irresponsible mother, who leaves them shortly after they are born. The girls are brought home by their nurse, Aunt Lovey, who adopts them and loves them infinitely. From the moment they were born, they have spent every moment of their lives together; they are inseperable. Literally.
Rose and Ruby Darlen are conjoined twins, joined at the head (craniopagus). As Rose and Ruby near their milestone 30th birthday, Rose decides it is time for her two write down her autobiography, with some reluctantly written additions from Ruby. Together they share their story.
Even though Lori Lansens has written a novel before (Rush Home Road), I wasn't familiar with her yet. So when I picked up The Girls, a book about conjoined twins, I wasn't sure what to expect. My instinct told me that it was going to be a book I'd enjoy, so I added it to my library, but I was hesitant about reading it immediately; because the author was unknown to me, I wasn't sure how she'd handle a subject as delicate as this one.
Conjoined twins, in any fictional form (movies, books), are often used as a subject of comedy (or worse, ridicule). Case in point: the most recent fictional story on conjoined twins I endured was the 2003 film Stuck on You, starring Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as conjoined adult twins. Though I don't think the movie's intention was to demean conjoined twins, it functioned as comedy with the goal to make its viewers laugh, by attempting to entertain them with scenes such as the conjoined twins going to the bathroom together. ("Haha, the other guy's just sitting there while his brother does his thing!")
I did not want this kind of thing to be repeated; rather I wanted something real. I wasn't in the mood to be fascinated, blown away. So I began reading The Girls with some caution, but soon I realized that Lansens had something completely different in mind with her story.
Never once have I felt that Lansens had anything but respect for her characters, the girls. She wrote gently, introducing them to her readers without feeling the need to use them for entertainment, without putting them on display in a circus. No theatrics, no unnecessary drama either.
Lansens writes about love – love between sisters, love between a husband and wife, love between parents and their children. Family and belonging to one and other are the important themes in this remarkable novel.
Togetherness is something the girls cannot avoid, but it is something they need, too. This is beautifully symbolized by the way the 'autobiography' was written. Rose's poetic narration is countered by Ruby's blunt confessions, and together it works. We wouldn't know Rose without Ruby, because Ruby is honest. We wouldn't know Ruby without Rose, because Rose asks Ruby to write with her. They need each other, yet they are obviously portrayed as the individuals that they are, with their own aspirations – something we can all relate to.
Heartwarming (but not overly sentimental), Lansens has succeeded in writing one of those books which you'll just never forget. Like Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" and Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife", this is a unique, moving story, one which will stay with me and one which I'll recommend to anyone who asks.
© 2008 Karin Elizabeth