July 2010

My Sister, Myself

Lonely Hearts Book Club Picks

“It is from books that wise men derive consolation in the troubles of life.”
—Victor Hugo

It’s been a year since my younger sister and I spoke. She lives across the country, but we used to call each other every day, sometimes talking for hours. She was my best friend, and now I suppose we are officially estranged. Our fight was over— you guessed it—money. Mother left her house to both of us, but my sister’s husband wants to sell it and auction off the antiques. Everything I cherish is in that house, and she knows it. It seems her husband rules, even if it means losing family heirlooms and destroying our relationship.    —Cindy, Los Angeles

Dear Cindy,
So many families have been torn apart by difficult spouses. It’s hard to deal with what feels like your sister’s betrayal, but did it ever occur to you she’s just as unhappy—that late at night, as she wraps herself in your mother’s best cashmere shawl, which she took before you noticed it was gone, she thinks about you? Take a bit of solace in some books that deal with sisterly love...

The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine

Two middle-aged sisters and their mother move into their cousin’s beach cottage while recovering from personal crises. Mom Betty has been dumped by her husband of 50 years. Daughter Miranda faces career humiliation and bankruptcy, while sensible Annie tries to keep it together. A loose reworking of Sense and Sensibility —and, my own mother says, “a great read if you don’t identify with Betty.”

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

The author, known for 101 Dalmatians, has captured more than the castle in this charming novel about an eccentric family managing life in a run-down English estate. The narrator, 17-year-old aspiring writer Cassandra Mortmain, chronicles her sister’s first love, as well as her own. Often compared to Pride and Prejudice, it’s a memorable look at sisters coping with life, romance and genteel poverty.

Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Read—or reread—these true originals, the ultimate look at sister relationships. They’re the well from which so many others spring.

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

Chandler’s first novel is one of his best. A tale of two sisters in their dangerous twenties and the iconic Philip Marlowe, who falls for the older one, whose ankles have “enough melodic line for a tone poem.” Good sister versus bad is played to the hilt, with the younger described as a child “who likes to pull wings off flies.” Both lead Marlowe into a seamy world of extortion, kidnapping and murder—deliciously noir.

A Summer Bird-Cage, by Margaret Drabble

The amusing story of two sisters’ difficult relationship, penned by someone who has been famously feuding with her own sister, writer A.S. Byatt, for years. Sarah returns home to be a bridesmaid for her glamorous older sister. The title, from an old play by John Webster, refers to Sarah’s view of marriage: “The birds that are without, despair to get in...the birds that are within...fear they shall never get out.”

The Transit of Venus, by Shirley Hazzard

A virtuoso take on unrequited love—two orphaned sisters travel from Australia to England, where their lives intertwine through marriage, betrayals, affairs and tragedies. A good old-fashioned love story with gripping plot, supernatural overtones and a sublime build of sexual tension. Think Wuthering Heights without the relentless fog.

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman

The orphaned Owens girls are raised by their eccentric aunts in a world of love potions, black cats and sorcery. Teased by other kids, the girls rely on each other until the impetuous Gillian runs away, leaving her conscientious older sibling, Sally, to care for their elderly aunts. Years later, they are thrown together once again, attending to a dead body, a seductive boyfriend...and ghosts of the past.

Have a question? You can reach Mack and Kaufman at lonelyheartsbookclub@latimes.com.