My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Six Sisters is the sort of book that makes me glad I started blogging. I found out about it by reading the author’s blog, Green Life, Blue Water. This book does not fit neatly into a niche or a genre, but in my opinion that is a strength. It consists of three novellas, each about two sisters, put together into one book. The novellas are arranged in order of length, shortest to longest, and, I would argue, in order of success. Whether they were written in that order or not, I don’t know, but I felt like I was watching the author grow in authority and power as a writer as the stories progressed.
For all 3 stories, giving away too many details would spoil the fun and suspense, so I will just comment on elements that I found remarkable in each story and the book as a whole. Each story presents a strong, likable, and complex protagonist. And while the stories deal with grim realities, they are ultimately stories of individual strength and triumph.
The first, A Gathering of One, is clever and is beautifully told in many places, uneven in others. It takes a while before you realize the story is about Patrice, because her mother Kassie is also an intriguing character and the first major scene is told from her point of view. The romance element comes as a bit of a pleasant surprise after the grim events of the first third, but once you get on board with it, it is an enjoyable read and you find yourself rooting for them. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the ending, but it was fun getting there.
The second, List of 55, is a poignant and often chilling psychological study of bad parenting and abusive relationships. Reading it, it seems quite amazing that Belinda has come through her harrowing childhood as well as she has. You hope for Belinda’s life to get better, and it does, as she learns to stand up for herself against her abusive future ex-husband. The surprise is Simone, who is not a sympathetic character at all for most of the story, until she makes you cry.
The third, The Quality of Light, is an environmentalist and magical realist fable. Here, in her longest and most ambitious work, the author takes more risks, and they pay off. This story is written from four different points of view; different scenes are told from the point of view of different characters (including a dead woman), each identified with her/his own symbol. This method worked very well for me as a reader. I was never confused about who was speaking, and each character had a unique voice. The male point of view worked as well as the female ones; the rationalist engineer, the teenager, the ghost, and the shaman were all given their due.
The author puts a lot of thought into the names of her characters in all 3 stories, but in this story in particular I had problems with those. I liked “Doc” as a character, but I didn’t like his nickname. I also didn’t like the name Harley. It made sense at the end, but to get there I had to put up with a whole story’s worth of thinking “who in their right mind names their daughter Harley”? I found this distracting.
The biggest risk in this story for me was the spiritual element and how it informed the interactions between Doc, the engineer, and Celia, the shaman. These interactions could have easily slipped into cliche, with Doc and Celia either arguing pointlessly past each other, or with one of them being converted to the other’s point of view. Neither of these extremes happens; instead Doc grows believably as a human being, he broadens and becomes more generous and forgiving, without losing the best aspects of himself. There was also one category of spiritual experience that I’ve never seen before–in fiction or anywhere else. In another book I might have stopped reading at that point. But here it worked, and made me believe that at least in this story, love transcends time and space, and overcomes death.