Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart
Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other--with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.
What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.
Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen's powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.
“Youll be drawn into the arms of The Sisters as if these women were your own family. Youll want to hold them, warn them, betray their secrets. But this is a novel, one that is fresh and vibrant and complex. You cannot live the sisters lives, but only share in their joy and heartbreak and ultimate triumph. A remarkably powerful book.”
—Sandra Dallas, author of Prayers for Sale
“Nancy Jensen has the natural storytellers ability to command attention, but with sophisticated psychological understanding and beautifully crafted writing. The Sisters is a needed novel that will become a very popular classic.”
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife
“A beautiful and touching novel about the events and choices that shape not only our lives but the lives of generations to come. Nancy Jensen takes us on an epic yet intimate journey through eighty years, ultimately revealing the flawed but lovely landscape that makes up a family. Her characters will stay with us long after the books final pages.”
—Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader
Family secrets reverberate for generations in one of the "Best Novels of 2011" (Kirkus Reviews)
Growing up without a mother in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, Bertie Fischer and her older sister, Mabel, have only each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie graduates from eighth grade, good intentions go terribly wrong, setting off a chain of misunderstandings that will change the lives of the next three generations.
What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through the second world war and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by a past that no one ever talks about. Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensens brilliant first novel, The Sisters, illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.
About the Author
NANCY JENSEN is an award-winning graduate of the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College whose short stories and essays have been published in such literary journals as Northwest Review, Other Voices, and The Louisville Review. She teaches English at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. A national bestseller and a #1 Indie Next Pick in hardcover, The Sisters is her debut novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. There are many secrets in The Sisters
, beginning with Mabels decision not to tell Bertie about Jim Butcher. In trying to understand her sisters behavior, fourteen-year-old Bertie wonders if “the things she didnt know were what kept her safe.” What secrets do other characters keep, and how do you think the secrets ultimately help or hurt their loved ones?
2. How does the era in which each woman comes of age affect her experience and shape her outlook on what is possible?
3. How do the main characters perceive loyalty? Betrayal? What do you think of their perceptions?
4. How do Berties girlhood losses affect her daughters and granddaughters relationships with men?
5. Bertie, Alma, and Lynn are accused by other characters of being hard and cold. How do you see them? To what extent do you think they change in the course of the novel?
6. At the end of her life, Bertie struggles to cry out to Rainey and Lynn, Forgive. Forgive. Why do you believe some characters are able to forgive and others not? Do you believe everything can or should be forgiven?
7. What does the novel suggest about whether families are born or made?
8. When Daisy expresses her concern that Mabel is setting herself up for emotional pain by photographing young men bound for Vietnam, Mabel tells Daisy, “You cant protect yourself from loss.” Do you think this is true? What happens to the characters in the novel, and to people in your experience, when they try?
9. In her interview with Ed Bradley, Mabel says, “I dont think any real war [is ever over]—large, small, between countries, between people. Even the wars inside ourselves. Something always remains.” Do you agree—in the novel and/or in real life?
10. The Sisters is structured as a series of chronological, interlocking narratives, sometimes with strikingly different perspectives of the same events. In what ways does this structure reflect the experience of an individual within a family?
11. Bertie tells Grace, “Something can happen to change your life so sudden, you cant get over it fast enough ...and that changes things for them too, all in a line.” Do you think that happens in most peoples lives at one time or another? If so, is the chain reaction inevitable, or can someone choose to break the chain?
12. How were you affected when Bertie wrote Deceased on the letter from Mabel, and Mabel later decided not to follow up on Nicks possible lead about Berties whereabouts? Can you imagine either of them acting differently? Did you find the conclusion satisfying?