In The Fine Art of Insincerity, author Angela Hunt takes us through one grueling weekend in the lives of three sisters. They meet on St. Simons Island to empty out their deceased grandmother’s beach house, but end up going through a lot more stuff than just what their grandmother left behind.
Hunt gives each sister – oldest Ginger, middle Pennyroyal, and youngest Rose — a voice of her own to the extent of setting each speaker’s chapters in its own font. Each woman speaks in first person, present tense, giving the story a feel of immediacy. Chapters are titled with the name of the speaker so there’s never any doubt as to whose head we’re in.
In this way Hunt explores the impact of a childhood that was colored by trauma and parental abandonment, the parenting of a loving grandmother, that grandmother’s own series of husbands, and the birth-order roles that each of the girls has played and continues to play.
I enjoyed the way Hunt brought out the issues between the sisters by putting them in singular situations or together to let us watch them be bossy, argue, weep, avoid, sneak around, flirt etc., thus allowing us as readers to draw our own conclusions about each character.
As the title suggests, there are people with honesty issues in this story. Other themes that get top billing are sibling roles, the fact that things are often not as they appear, the importance of communication, and an exploration of what love really looks like – in families and in marriage. Religious faith, though present (an epigraph quoting 1 Corinthians 13 opens the book) plays a minor role.
This character-driven book is not fast-moving or particularly exciting. But it does give us a chance to get to know these three women and their grandmother in a way that leads us to probe our own selves and look at our own relationships. As an oldest girl child, I saw a lot of myself in Ginger, unarguably the most irritating of the three sisters. Though I often felt like giving flirty Penny a shake, there were times I applauded her for her perception. I saw bits of my own younger sisters in soft, dreamy, yet relationship savvy Rose. And of course Grandma Lillian, who doesn’t make an appearance but casts a long shadow via memories and memorabilia, is someone I, and probably many readers, wouldn’t mind being like – sans all the husbands of course.
The paperback edition of The Fine Art of Insincerity ends with discussion questions and an interview of the author, making this an excellent choice for reading clubs.