Small World

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Quietly spectacular, this story, and the two sisters whose lives are revealed, slowly and uncomfortably, through its pages, creeps up on you, slipping into the corners of your heart and leaving you dazzled.

As Joyce, our forty-nine year-old first person POV narrator, and her sister Lydia, both divorced and childless, find themselves occupying an apartment together, cohabiting for the first time since childhood, it is perhaps inevitable that they find themselves reminiscing on the twists and turns and deeply buried traumas of their childhood, and the tracks remaining in the strained relationship left with themselves, and each other.

Without giving the plot away, (no spoilers here), reared in concert with a disabled (now long deceased) sister, by a guilt-ridden and pathologically neglectful mother, and an ineffectual and tormented father (also both deceased), unpacking the past is a torturously difficult prospect for sisters who have managed to ignore each other, and their issues, for decades.

“Of course we’re meant to be alone. Who can stand us?”

It’s impossible not to be touched as the secrets slowly reveal themselves, and emotions never truly acknowledged begin to surface.

“You don’t think you talked that night, or ever, about what happened that day.“

With a deft touch, the paucity of Joyce’s current emotional world, her isolation, and her lingering naïveté is tenderly revealed using a blend of prose, and small snippets of poetry, modeled by our narrator on the ‘small world’ reveals of everyday neighborhood happenings and concerns.

I loved the treacle-slow pacing as it unwinds, was devastated by our narrator’s wide-eyed pain and confusion, as long-buried memories, revisited now in adulthood, echo through her life, and that of her sister – both now middle-aged – making each appear childlike in their emotions and behavior as the stamp of unresolved trauma surrounding them dictates.

A searing and heartbreaking read, this is a lovely book, thoughtfully crafted as both gentle and unmistakably explosive, – and one that will sit with me.


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