The Girls ***** by Lori Lansens
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where in her words, pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera. Books, Food & Photos, my three favorite things all in one place!
“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or a solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.”
This is Ruby and Rose Darlen’s story; at 29 they are the oldest surviving conjoined craniopagus twins. Joined at the side of their heads, they are known as “The Girls” in their small town of Leaford. “Our thoughts are distinctly our own. Our selves have struggled fiercely to be unique, and in fact we’re more different than most identical twins.” Rose prefers books and sports unlike Ruby, who likes television and is “girlie”. They have different tastes in food and different sleep patterns. Ruby collects and unearths Indian artifacts with seemingly no effort, and is chronically carsick. Rose wants to be a writer and sets out to write their life story.
Abandoned at birth by an unwed mother, they are adopted by Aunt Lovey, a nurse working in the hospital on the day of their birth, which is also the same day as “the great tornado”. Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash (who is Slovak), in their 50’s and childless, raise them in a loving, unorthodox environment and strive for normalcy in their day-to-day lives. Aunt Lovey is their advocate and encourages their autonomy. Rose is accepted into an English program at the local university, but Ruby refuses to go. When Rose complains to Aunt Lovey, her response is: “Don’t blame your sister if you don’t become a writer. I don’t know how pistons piss, but can sure as hell drive a car.”
This book was heart-wrenching, funny, moving, painful-to-read at times, and extremely memorable.
“You’re lucky to be you,” she’d say, looking from me to my sister. “You girls are remarkable. Most people can’t say that.”
“I’ve never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby’s gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way to.”
Aunt Lovey & Uncle Stash opt to raise The Girls in the country instead of the city, and move to an abandoned, inherited farmhouse, where neither had planned to live.
“There are days when, like a normal person, we’re clumsy and uncoordinated. We have less natural symbiosis when one of us (usually Ruby) is sick, but mostly our dance is a smooth one. We hate doing things in unison, such as answering yes or no at the same time. we never finish each other’s sentences. We have an unspoken, even unconscious, system of checks and balances to determine who’ll lead the way at any given moment. There is conflict. There is compromise.”
Lots of Slovak Soul Food in this book… Christmas Soup (The Girls describe it as an oily concoction made with sausage and barley), cabbage, halushki– a dish of cabbage with bacon and goat cheese, and Apple Strudel. The Apple Srudel was really something I could sink my teeth into :-)
A quick and easy Apple Strudel Recipe here. (Also a video link if you’re interested.)
“I feel the shift in her breathing and the heaviness of her body as her grip relaxes on my shoulder and she falls away from the world. The weight of wonder. The weight of worry. I hum some secret place into being, thinking of this other me, the one that only I can see, a girl called She, who is not We, a girl who I will never be.”
On “Slovak Night”, Uncle Stash and The Girls would gather around their farm table and cook “freezer meals”. While they cooked, they’d prepare Palacsinta–a Slovak crepe, to snack on during their night of cooking, that they would spread with black-currant preserves.
Palacscinta Recipe here
“My sister, Ruby, has always been cold, especially her hands and feet (Raynaud’s, it’s called, a circulatory problem), while I have always been warm and hated to be overdressed or seated near a fireplace. When Ruby and I were little, she used to put her delicate hands inside my shirt, on the skin of my back, or sometimes on my tummy. Her clubfeet she’d press to my thighs. She’d giggle and tease, ‘I’m taking your warm, Rose. I’m taking all you warm.’ I never minded, and never protested, because I felt that while she was taking my warm, I was taking her cool.”
“Some people think that Ruby and I are cursed to live conjoined. But think of how blessed we are to be so connected that we can and did and do cry out, ‘There’s something wrong! Help!’ Imagine if a husband knew the instant his wife stopped loving him and could bring the marriage back to life before it was too late. If a mother could see the second her child took the wrong path and call while he was still close enough to hear ‘Come back! you’re going the wrong way!’ Ruby and I endure because of our connectedness. Maybe we all do. How can that be a curse?”
“You’ve seen the double yolk? And sometimes the cherry grows together–not on two stems, but the flesh of two together. It’s like that. Special.”
“The Girls, by Lori Lansens, is a ballad, a melancholy song of two very strange, enchanted girls who live out their peculiar, ordinary lives is a rural corner of Canada….The Girls glides by like a watercolor dream, finding its poetry in dailiness and the universalities of human desire and connection….Lansens, who has a gentle, open way of writing, makes of these two girls a kind of perfect marriage, harmonious and everlasting.”
— THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know The Girls. I think you will to.
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