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The Sisters: A Novel (Reading Group Gold) by…

The Sisters: A Novel (Reading Group Gold) (edition 2012)

by Nancy Jensen

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Title:The Sisters: A Novel (Reading Group Gold)
Authors:Nancy Jensen
Info:St. Martin's Griffin (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Sisters by Nancy Jensen



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In the early 1920's, sisters Mabel and Bertie Fischer are left alone with their cruel step-father, Jim Butcher, after their mother dies in childbirth. As the girls became teenagers, Butcher's eyes fell on the beautiful Mabel who endured his advances to keep him away from her younger sister. On the day of Bertie's 8th grade graduation, Mabel and Bertie's boyfriend Wallace, devised an elaborate plan to escape the clutches of Jim Butcher. Unfortunately, the plan went awry, separating the sisters from one another due to a horrible misunderstanding. Thus begins a multi-generational story of estrangements between mothers and daughters, between sisters, and the search for love that should be so easy to grasp but is always just out of reach.

Bertie marries a hardworking man named Hans and has two daughters, Alma and Rainey. Alma is an excellent student and craves a life far removed from the poverty-stricken home in which she grew up. It seems her prayers are answered when she marries Gordon, a doctor and son of wealthy parents but although she has respect, dignity and the envy of many women, her marriage is a shell and her son, Milton, is exactly like his cold father. Rainey impulsively marries Carl at age 18 when she becomes pregnant with her first child, Lynn, but leaves him just as impulsively when she learns a secret that Carl has tried to hide from everyone. A short affair with another man produces Rainey's second child, Grace. Alma and Rainey, so different from one another, are never close and the next generation of Lynn and Grace fare no better in the sisterly love department.

Mabel became an accomplished photographer, first working for a newspaper and then working on her own. She unofficially adopted a young girl named Daisy who was in the same unfortunate position Mabel had been in as a young girl. Through the years Mabel had tried to contact Bertie but Bertie refused to read any of her letters and burned them when she received them. Hoping to put an end to any communication she scribbles "deceased" on the last envelope and returns it to Mabel. Although Mabel believes that Bertie herself might have written the words, she accepts the estrangement as permanent.

This is a difficult book to rate as I do like Jensen's writing quite a bit. The chapters are short, each focusing on one or another of the female characters. For the most part the characters are quite well drawn but Mabel's daughter and granddaughter are lost in the stories of Bertie's family. I kept hoping that somewhere through the years one of these women would have a happy life and be able to turn to her sister or mother and say "I love you". It is a very interesting story but not a satisfying one. ( )
  Ellen_R | Apr 2, 2016 |
The Sisters is a heartbreaking novel about sisters, living in the 1920’s in Kentucky and begins with a tragic misunderstanding between them. This continues through the generations due to secrets, and lying back and forth from one generation to another. Each have their own set of circumstances and how they cope and deal with choices whether strong or weak, or to forgive or not.

Mabel, the older works hard to protect her little sister (in so many ways). Of course, in those days and times, no one talked about taboo subjects. Women relied upon themselves to find ways to cope, or deal with these horrible issues.

Mabel, secretively plans to leave home and escape their monstrous stepfather. However, stepfather is found dead. Mabel and Wallace vanish. Bertie assumes she has been betrayed. The sisters are lost to each other.

There are some tough topics such as sexual abuse and hardships, heartache, and tragedy. Ultimately these women have do decide, if they can learn from their mistakes, forgive and start anew. It is sad to think many women had to experience such abuse through the Depression and War times, and continue to hide their pain.

"Whatever we carry inside us shapes everyone we touch,” one character concludes. It is quite fitting which demonstrates how the forces of love and hope inevitably bind families together, and how each human life emerges “out of the ashes of so many” who have gone before.

Heartbreaking at times and also heartwarming, a compelling saga about an imperfect family, sisters, regret, and acceptance.

I listened to the audio version; so may have enjoyed more by reading the book. The narrator,(Cassandra Campbell) however, did a good job with the characters.
( )
  JudithDCollins | Nov 26, 2014 |
Wonderful book. Sat down to start reading this one and found myself completely absorbed in the lives of the two sisters. I only found fault with the ending which I didn't care for. Can't really say how it could have been done differently other than it was just to fast and left the story with a feeling of being incomplete for me, perhaps that was the authors intentions. There were only one or two chapters that didn't keep me spellbound the rest I flew through. ( )
  justablondemoment | Oct 20, 2013 |
This book, though well written was an exercise in dysfunction, poor choices, critical spirits and ...did I say dysfunction?
A more unhappy group of women I have not seen . I slogged my way through to see if there was ever any resolution and there was NONE.
Not a satisfying read. ( )
  chickadee2 | Aug 15, 2013 |
I love stories that follow women's lives over not only their lifetimes, but even the lifetimes of their children. Not only does Jensen accomplish this within the pages of this book, but she also brings to life a third generation of the family. The story opens in Juniper, Kentucky, and the year is 1927. Bertie and Mabel are left living with their stepfather after their mother's passing and the sisters plan to get as far away from there as possible when the opportunity arises.

The stories alternate between perspectives of Bertie and Mabel, until their children become main characters and we see things from a whole new light. And then when these ladies grandchildren are introduced we are given a whole new set of problems.

Early on in the novel the girls are separated from most unfortunate circumstances sending their lives in different directions. They make the best of their lives, raising their families the best way they know how. Unfortunately, Bertie has harbored her anger for so long, this attitude seeps through her everyday life, and eventually rubbing off onto her children.

I really don't want to give too much of this book away, as it was enjoyable the way events unfolded. My main complaint about this book was the multiple characters we were introduced to. Between Bertie and Mabels' children and grandchildren it was tough to keep them all straight. The author did include a family tree in the beginning that was quite helpful, but while reading the Kindle version I probably didn't use this tool as much as others may have. I think I would have enjoyed knowing more about Bertie and Mabel, rather than having little snippets of multiple characters.

I did enjoy the novel overall and most of my book club did also. With themes of family, resentment, and truth, you may enjoy this book also. I don't hesitate in recommending this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion. ( )
  jo-jo | Jul 13, 2013 |
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"Set against the dramatic backdrop of American history from the Great Depression into the 21st century, this beautiful but disturbing debut novel, inspired partly by the author's own family history, will engage readers of well-written, thought-provoking women's fiction."
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Andrea Kempf (Nov 1, 2011)
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…I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
- W. B. Yeats

We always keep the dearest things to ourselves.
- James Joyce
For my mother, my mooring
First words
It was a lovely dress, soft and pink as a cloud at dawn.
Millions of years of human life, and still there was no more arduous battle than crossing the border into someone else’s heart. Or to stand aside and wave him across your own. Maybe it wasn’t possible to know another person, not entirely. Maybe it wasn’t possible to do more than show the desire to now, offering some sort of symbol, creating touchstone.
They had all been raised up on secrets, things never expressed but linked through time to all the other members. . . . the tangled secrets and what they had wrought.
Whatever we carry inside us shapes everyone we touch.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312542704, Hardcover)

In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.  

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen’s powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:29 -0400)

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Growing up motherless and under the thumb of a cruel stepfather in hardscrabble 1920s Kentucky, Bertie Fisher and her older sister, Mabel, are torn apart by a painful misunderstanding that reverberates through the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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