Monday, July 05, 2010

Book Review: "The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay"

Beverly Jensen died in 2003, but her collection of short stories (which taken together form something of a novel) have been published by Viking this year as The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay. The stories (apparently drawn from family tales) center around two sisters, Avis and Idella Hillock, and take place over the course of their lives, from 1916 through 1987.

From the opening installment (if not from the title itself) it becomes quite clear that this is not going to be a book filled with sweetness and light: the girls and their family members face crushing hardships right from the get-go as they deal with some of life's most cruel slings and arrows long before anyone should have to do so. When they leave their rural Canadian home for life in America (small-town Maine in Idella's case, Boston and other cities for Avis), they confront additional pressures and trials throughout their lives. And yet, somehow, a bond of devotion keeps them together, often laughing (even if sometimes through tears) at their shared struggles and triumphs.

Jensen's created some marvelous characters here, from the two Hillock girls themselves, to their hard-drinking and miserable father Bill, to Idella's indomitable and hilarious mother-in-law. The rocky coasts and gritty small towns Jensen captures here are embodied in her writing style; no flowers, just the brutal reality of life as it is. Sometimes very sad, sometimes incredibly amusing (the penultimate story, "Wake," is both at once), and always written with a graceful, passionate strength, these stories deserved to be published, and they deserve to be widely read.

1 comment:

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man said...

A great novel full of humanity, inhumanity, joy, sadness, life and death. A tour de force.