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The Girls

by Lori Lansens

The first three-quarters of Lori Lansens’ new novel, The Girls, is the best story I’ve read this year. It kept me reading late into the night, and the next day I couldn’t get the characters out of my head. If only Lansens had cut about 100 of the book’s 470-odd pages.

The Girls is really the double story of conjoined twins Rose and Ruby Darlen. The young women were born in the middle of a tornado in a small southern Ontario town to a very young mother who disappeared right after their birth. Adopted by Lovey and Stash, a nurse and a slaughterhouse worker, they are raised in as normal a fashion as possible for two beings who are joined at the forehead. Lansens has each girl tell her own story, so that we see their lives in a particularly three-dimensional way: their slightly different perspectives give the novel depth the way the slightly different messages our two eyes convey to our brains allow us better visual perception.

Rose, who clicks away on her laptop computer, sounds both tough and funny. She begins by recounting in vivid detail what happened at their birth, the medical details of their condition, and the main events of their childhood, including a baptism that nearly ends in drowning. Then, just when it seems she’s gone as far as she can go without being boring, Ruby, writing in pen on yellow lined paper, takes over. It quickly becomes clear that Rose is telling only part of the story, and the mysteries that Ruby innocently reveals take the story to a new level.

And so it goes: their small-town lives are full of drama and slightly skewed reflections about life, faith, and human frailty. Ruby lets us know the secrets behind Rose’s compulsive writing, secrets I won’t divulge because readers should have the pleasure of discovering them themselves.

However, much of the last quarter of the book is not up to this standard. The family treks to Slovakia, Stash’s homeland, where the girls are involved in an elaborate misunderstanding about witches and the magic that surrounds such sports of nature as conjoined twins. Lansens would have done better to leave the girls at home, because ultimately that is where they find grace and hope and love at the end of the book.