Review

I See You Everywhere

by Julia Glass

"We are as different as white chocolate and seaweed," considers
one of the sisters at the center of Julia Glass's third work of
fiction, I SEE YOU EVERYWHERE. Novels about sisters who are polar
opposites, who often live life in tension with one another, are
nothing new. Glass's talent, however, is to find perceptive moments
of clarity within well-worn territory. Here she uses an episodic
storytelling technique similar to the one she employed with great
success in her National Book Award-winning novel THREE JUNES.

Louisa and Clement (Clem) Jardine are young adults when the the
book opens in 1980. The initial chapters, which are narrated partly
in Louisa's voice and partly in Clem's, give readers insight into
the sisters' common bonds as well as their striking differences.
They come from gentility. Their mother is a former Minnesota farm
girl who has taken to the manor lifestyle with aplomb, breeding
championship hunting dogs and leading regular fox hunts near the
family's Rhode Island home. Their father is often in their mother's
shadow, a successful but shy businessman who is happiest when
pottering around in his gardens. The girls' mother is a big
believer in heredity, in the ability of genes (and bloodlines) to
shape character --- but her daughters appear to come from different
stock entirely.

Louisa is older by four years, and she fulfills many of the
stereotypes of oldest children. Cautious, responsible Louisa has a
plan for her future, and she is often flummoxed by what she sees as
Clem's recklessness and lack of planning. Louisa, who starts out as
an artist and later turns to writing about art, is most at home in
urban settings. In fact, her unease in nature is at the heart of
the first chapter, in which Clem has to save her older sister from
drowning in a Vermont swimming hole. Humiliated, Louisa resents her
loss of control --- control, after all, is at the center of her
personal philosophy. As for romance, Louisa also values stability
and control, as, over the course of the novel, she searches (mostly
unsuccessfully) for the ideal mate who can provide her with the
perfect mix of passion and predictability.

Passion is also on Clem's agenda; predictability, on the other
hand, definitely is not. Unlike Louisa, who searches for "the One,"
Clem seems to chew up men and spit them out, leaving behind a trail
of broken hearts as she roams around the world. And roam she does,
as she takes on a series of research biologist positions in all
corners of North America and beyond. Clem, whose personal life
resembles a train wreck (or, literally, a maiming boating accident
in the wake of a breakup), also has a tendency to get too
emotionally involved in her professional work.

The two sisters frequently flirt with tragedy --- first with
Clem's near-fatal boating accident, then with Louisa's serious
health problems. In the end, though, tragedy strikes unexpectedly
and devastatingly, leaving one sister to pick up the pieces of a
life and decipher the meaning of a life-long sisterly
relationship.

Julia Glass's talent is in distilling emotions and ideas into a
carefully chosen image or a perfectly worded sentence. Those who
are looking for a page-turning narrative would be better served
elsewhere, since Glass's novels consist of quieter, subtler
pleasures. At first, the narrative structure --- which eventually
develops into the sisters narrating alternating chapters extending
over the course of more than 20 years --- can seem disjointed, like
a series of short stories. This strategy, however, permits the
author to develop her characters gradually and carefully over the
course of their evolving lives.

The most important character Glass develops is that of the
sisterhood between Clem and Louisa, and this parallel narration
serves as a perfect metaphor for the two sisters' relationship.
Louisa observes that their bond is " like a double helix, two souls
coiling around a common axis, joined yet never touching." Louisa
and Clem rarely share the same page --- or the same physical space
--- but, whether they readily admit it or not, they rely on each
other to define themselves.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011

I See You Everywhere
by Julia Glass

  • Publication Date: July 14, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 1400075777
  • ISBN-13: 9781400075775