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Book Review: Sisters: An Anthology edited by Jan Freeman, Emily Wojcik, and Deborah Bull

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The unique bond of sisters takes many forms in Sisters: An Anthology, published by Paris Press. Over forty women contribute brief stories, memoirs, and poems, conveying the depth of our connection. We who are born into a family that provides us a sister can readily see the startling truth in these stories: our relationship with our sisters is special, no matter the age difference or circumstances as life carries us along.

Sisters: An Anthology includes contributions from many classic women writers, such as Margaret Atwood, Delia Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, Alice Walker and Wendy Wasserstein. Grace Paley’s brief poem “I Need to Talk to My Sister” is not for the fainthearted, for there is no love without loss. Perhaps the most unusual piece is Jane Bowles’s playful pair of quarreling sister puppets.

More than a compilation of essays on a theme, Sisters: An Anthology provides a rare chronology of sisters throughout life. The anthology seems to effortlessly follow us along the age continuum from “I want to reach through the telephone and strangle my sister” to the Delaney sisters, over 100 years old, who do yoga by the television every day, although “sometimes Bessie cheats and she’s just lying there.” The Delaney sisters are an example of the complexity of the entire sister relationship, where one wakes up each day and says “Thank you, Lord, for another day,” and the other wakes up and says “Oh, Lord, another day?"

Compiling any anthology seems daunting. Where do you start and how do you ever stop? Here, the editors pulled together a nice mix of stories and essays by contemporary and modern women writers who have verbalized their connection to a sister. The book’s arrangement results in a highly readable format, mirroring our lives and our role within families. The pieces span decades, and are nicely organized in sections matching our development through life: “Don’t Tell Mother,” “Sister – Sister” and “Having Our Say.”

Some of the softest poems are the most revealing, with words pruned to get to the core. In “Basque Guide,” Myra Shapiro writes:

“In southern France my sister and I hike steep, ancient hills, to arrive at old age in a new harmony. We say once a year let’s go see beauty together.”

When a story is titled with the Yiddish expression “Shlug De Kleine,” meaning “Beat up the little one,” we know we’re entering the familiar realm of childhood resentment. Reading Sisters: An Anthology, you can’t help but recall fighting over which sister always got the pretty dress, the new doll, or especially if sisters are close in age, who always got the hand-me-down coat, whether it fit or not.

As in so many sibling relationships in childhood, one’s sister can be seen as a nuisance more than a friend. It’s later in the book that we see the strong bond that never fades, even when sisters are separated by years or miles or circumstances. In Dorothy Parker’s letter to her sister, she writes, “there is heaps to say but absolutely no news.” And she goes on for pages and pages describing her life in Paris, as if in conversation across the table from each other.

Sisters: An Anthology is an elegant tribute to the parallel lives we live through the passage of time. Through it all, we remain sisters… together, wherever, forever.

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About Helen Gallagher

  • summer sears

    I’m so glad that you reviewed SISTERS: An Anthology. What a truly amazing collection of stories. A friend gave me this book and I read it cover to cover over Thanksgiving (it was the perfect companion).

    I don’t have a sister but each story hooked me and gave me a new understanding of the deep bond shared by sisters-so different then a brother.

    This is the gift I am giving all of my friends this year- good for those who have sisters and those I consider my “sister”.