THE ORPHAN SISTER by Gwendolen Gross, 2011

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa

A doozy of a family secret is unspooled in this quirky and masterful novel about three sisters: Olivia and Odette who came from the same egg that was split after fertilization, while Clementine (what a darling!) was born at the same time, but from a single fertilized egg. Clementine is genetically more of a sibling to her sisters than a twin. The story loops back in time, enlarging each time another piece of the story is written. For a book that has a light touch, it whips up emotionally as the story goes on.

In the class I teach, Emotions into Art, I ask writers to collect off-the-beat expressions of emotion by other writers, not to copy them, but to inspire them. There's quite enough "He swallowed hard" and "his heart thumped", thank you very much. Here's some examples from Gwendolen of stretching for new ways to express emotion:
Instead of "My mouth was dry with anxiety" she writes, "My mouth was suddenly post-dentist fuzzy, half-hot, half-numb.
How about this for creativity in showing bodily sensations? "She was stroking my hair now; it felt so lovely, but tender at the same time, as if my hair had nerve endings and was too sensitive to be touched.
And this for showing someone overwhelmed? "Neither one of us spoke, and I didn't know what she was thinking or feeling, but I could tell it was a big suck-you-under, wavelike feeling."
When you read this novel, besides seeing just how much a family can be torn apart and what they will do to stay together, notice the "egg" motifs that run through the book, emphasicing the theme. The sun spreading across Clementine's living room is described is "like an egg in a pan."
There's a wide cast of characters in this book to enjoy, including a ferret and a boa constrictor.
Read The Orphan Sister like a reader. Read it like a writer. Read it!

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