If you watch as much What Not to Wear as I do, chances are the title of Lori Lansens’ latest will not make you think about conjoined twins. Instead you’ll imagine Clinton and Stacy dry-heaving at the sight of some woman’s saggy breasts (“The girls need help!”) and bustling them off to a professional bra fitting.
But good news: The Girls is not actually about boobs after all.
This novel is written from the first-person perspectives of Rose and Ruby Darlen, who are, at 29, the world’s oldest living craniopagus twins. Yes, they are joined at the head, they are sassy and undetachable, but that doesn’t stop them from writing a book together without even peeking at the other person’s work. Rose is the aspiring writer—and the instigator of the autobiography—while Ruby is just uncomfortably going along with it. Learning what they share, and what they don’t, is the most interesting part of the book.
This is, of course, affliction fiction. But, refreshingly, it is not about loneliness or self-pity. In fact, the girls live almost normal lives, sheltered as they are in the small Canadian town where everybody knows them. At times, it’s easy to forget that Rose and Ruby are even conjoined; they have such different personalities and interests they just seem like sisters.
There is a bit of that “we may seem different, but we’re really all the same” gunk that’s always going around. Not said, but implied. Apparently we are all the same, even if your sibling is physically bonded to your head. Mmm, okay.
I read The Girls for my book club, voting for it primarily because I thought it had the best chance of any of the selections of becoming a bestseller (at the time I was thinking I wouldn’t blog about books that weren’t, and multitasking is always good). I mean, America loves affliction fiction! How could a book about conjoined twins miss? But fie, The Girls remains off the charts, and two of the other selections—Water for Elephants and Eat, Pray, Love—climbed right up them. Bastards! It just goes to show that you can study bestsellers for four years and still not always know exactly what will make it. But I still think The Girls will scale the ladder eventually. If it had some albinos it would be there already.
I liked this book. I didn’t love it. Some of my book club friends were more enamored with it than I was, I think because they are less irritated by 1) protagonists who are writers (yawn), and 2) disgusting birth scenes (two babies, joined at the head…need I say more?). I also tend not to get excited about conversational first-person narration unless it’s done exceptionally well. My cronies, however, seemed to feel that the two perspectives demonstrated Lansens’ authorial skill.
Well, good for her, I say, but I just prefer a more literary hand. We’ll see what I find in our next club selection: Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent.