A novel about Twin Boys and another about Three Sisters

The order in which I read books sometimes makes a difference in what I see. Before the novels, I had read Half the Sky, a book full of case stories about women’s mistreatment in third world countries.  Case studies are much more vivid than mere facts and statistics, so the sex slavery, female cutting, and vaginal fistulas made everyone in the book group uncomfortable. In addition I was uncomfortable at the solutions offered. Everything was reduced to economy: Women’s issues are not front burner issues because women don’t have status. Give women money and jobs and let them contribute to the economy, and then their issues will increase in importance as they become more important. In taking what in some cases is a side effect and making it a goal, I think women as human are completely lost. Can you spell COMMODIFICATION?

The next book, Cutting the Stone by Vergese, about twin boys. Not closely linked with the above, but since it dealt with medicine in Ethiopia female cutting and fistulas were issues in places.  I was more sensitive to the issues and noticed the hints sooner than I would have without the first book.

The picture of medicine with little funding was vivid, the contrast between medicine  and attitudes to death in Africa and the United States was enlightening. Sometimes I thought there was more medical information than needed, but often it functioned well to describe a character or to extend suspense.

But moving on to the twin boys.  The primary point of view was one of the twins, Marion. But he and Shiva were portrayed as one in the way that twins often are: knowing what the other is thinking, speaking for each other. Early in the novel the point of view was often”we” emphasizing that oneness; that ended after an estrangement between the boys.

Reading The Weird Sisters by Brown immediately after Cutting the Stone alerted me more quickly to the “we” narrator for the three sisters. It seemed to work better when it really meant all three, but it was also effective as the  “we” moved among the three so that it was the two not involved describing the one acting. The two kept shifting (as do loyalties in groups of three) so that the “we” was fluid. For me it emphasized how they defined themselves against each other, and it emphasized the “fate” of birth order in their personalities.

I think the family’s interest in Shakespeare could have been established by the girls’ names, names that mostly reflected birth order. Rosalind (As You Like It) was the eldest; Bianca (younger sister to Kate in Taming of the Shrew) was the second; Cordelia the third, as was Lear’s Cordelia. Like Lear’s , she was the father’s favorite.  But there the connections ended.  I know Lear better than the other two plays, and I don’t think the passivity and spoiled baby of Brown’s Cordelia fits with Shakespeare’s.  I’ll have to reread the other two plays. An additional means of showing the family fixation, the frequent quoting of Shakespeare’s lines as mask for emotion, was more gimmicky and intrusive than functional…I think the point had already been adequately made.

Both novels had pat endings with one feature that attempted to make it less pat. (Not being specific because I don’t want to do a ‘spoiler.’  )  But then, convincing endings are extremely difficult to write, and in spite of my complaints, I found the two books were good reads.

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