Wednesday, September 15, 2010

INVISIBLE SISTERS by Jessica Handler

I could never write a memoir because, for one thing, I had a relatively normal childhood, and, for another, I didn't keep a journal. However, Jessica Handler did keep a journal and had a very difficult childhood, being the "well" sister. I viewed this book as sort of a memorial to her two younger siblings, Sarah and Susie, who had very different but ultimately fatal diseases. The impact of this tragic coincidence on a family is almost unimaginable, and Jessica Handler documents her family's lives in a rather scattered manner, something like an out-of-order scrapbook. I can't say that this jumbling of events made the book hard to follow, since it's really a very fast read. Thank heavens, because I didn't really want to spend too much time in this household. It's not surprising that young Jessica used drugs and toxic friendships as her escapes from survivor's guilt and the widening chasm between her parents. I was also glad that this book was not as tear-inducing as I thought it would be, since the tone is really rather matter-of-fact. Handler's father is a very intriguing figure, a labor union attorney who moved his family to Atlanta in the 1960s and who had his own demons to face as he struggled to be the head of a family whose members were dying. Her mother appears to be rock solid through all the tragedy, but the failure on the part of both parents to encourage expressions of grief was ultimately destructive to their family dynamic. I'm guessing that pouring out her memories on paper was cathartic for the author, and in the interview in the back of the book she says that she was surprised at how much she laughed while writing it. Needless to say, she doesn't share enough of this humor with the reader. Her husband also has a very bizarre story to tell, and their complicated histories draw them together.
Amazon: 4.5 stars (19 reviews)
Barnes & Noble: 4 stars (3 reviews)


bermudaonion said...

Wow, what a tragic story. I love memoirs, but this one might be too sad for me.

Patti's Pages said...

Sad, yes, but weepy, no. Thanks for commenting!

Herschelian said...

Children who grow up in a family with seriously ill siblings have the most difficult time in childhood. I recently read an excellent memoir by Francis Spufford (he's a British writer/journalist) 'The Child that Books Built' about how he used books to escape from the reality of life where his parents whole attention was on his younger sister for whom he felt both pity and envy. I will certainly look out for 'Invisible Sisters' following your review.

Patti's Pages said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I like the catchy title.