Elizabeth Joy Arnold’s debut is the perfect book for a day at the beach or a rainy weekend indoors --- a guilty-pleasure, fast-paced read that begs to be devoured in one sitting, despite its length.
On the surface, it contains the requisite combination of emotionally volatile characters who are prone to keeping secrets and betraying each other, true-to-life conversational dialogue and a suspenseful storyline that will keep readers mindlessly engaged. But for the most part, this is not just your run-of-the-mill supermarket fare. Instead, Arnold does a fine job of imbuing the two main characters with consciences, so that readers can have ample opportunity to mull over and form opinions about how each character reacts to his or her changing circumstances, and how the choices they make relate to universal themes such as regret, forgiveness and the fragility of trust.
PIECES OF MY SISTER'S LIFE is first and foremost a story about the unbreakable bond between a set of twins, Eve and Kerry. Told in alternating sections that take place in the past when the girls are 16 (1993-1994) and the present (2007) when they are 30, the narrative takes its time in revealing their complicated relationship. In the beginning, readers are privy to the basics through a series of flashbacks: the twins’ early childhood was supposedly a happy one until their mother split when they were six. After her abrupt and inexplicable departure (the reason why she leaves isn’t revealed until much later in the book), Eve and Kerry were left to make do with their alcoholic father. Although he did the best he could, he eventually commits suicide when they are 16 (the details of his death are sketchy) and the twins are on their own once again.
From the outset, Arnold paints a clear picture of Eve and Kerry’s inseparability, despite all the tragedy they experienced early on. Although Eve is the saucy one and Kerry is quieter and more serious, the girls had always shared everything and seemed like the best of friends growing up. But now that they’re getting older, their once-solid relationship has begun to crack. The more contemplative and introverted Kerry gets, the more wild and crazy Eve becomes, until there are so many secrets between the two of them that they might as well be strangers.
Then, when Kerry starts dating Justin, the slightly older cutie next door, and Eve (who also harbors a crush on Justin) retaliates by having an affair with the town’s prominent (married) congressman, the fragile equilibrium the twins have tried so hard to maintain threatens to crumble for good. Rather than spoil what happens next (hint: murder and a betrayal), readers can rest assured that there are plenty of surprises --- and somewhat realistic resolutions in an “After School Special” kind of way --- in store for them.
What makes PIECES OF MY SISTER'S LIFE more than just a sordid tale of failed romance, sex and dysfunctional families is Arnold’s decision to show how the story plays itself out in 2007, when Eve is dying of ovarian cancer and Kerry visits her after a 13-year hiatus. Because all the drama from their childhood isn’t resolved until the Epilogue (and even then, there are still vestiges of unhealed wounds and unfinished business between some of the characters), readers are able to form their own conclusions about the characters’ behavior without being told by the author what to think. Thankfully, ample mediations on love, truth, blame and resentment are given their proper due.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on July 31, 2007
Pieces of My Sister's Life