Published by: Back Bay Books
Release Date: April 10, 2007
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo
In Lori Lansens’ astonishing second novel, readers come to know and love two of the most remarkable characters in Canadian fiction. Rose and Ruby are twenty-nine-year-old conjoined twins. Born during a tornado to a shocked teenaged mother in the hospital at Leaford, Ontario, they are raised by the nurse who helped usher them into the world. Aunt Lovey and her husband, Uncle Stash, are middle-aged and with no children of their own. They relocate from the town to the drafty old farmhouse in the country that has been in Lovey’s family for generations.
Joined to Ruby at the head, Rose’s face is pulled to one side, but she has full use of her limbs. Ruby has a beautiful face, but her body is tiny and she is unable to walk. She rests her legs on her sister’s hip, rather like a small child or a doll.
In spite of their situation, the girls lead surprisingly separate lives. Rose is bookish and a baseball fan. Ruby is fond of trash TV and has a passion for local history.
Rose has always wanted to be a writer, and as the novel opens, she begins to pen her autobiography. Here is how she begins:
I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.
Ruby, with her marvellous characteristic logic, points out that Rose’s autobiography will have to be Ruby’s as well — and how can she trust Rose to represent her story accurately? Soon, Ruby decides to chime in with chapters of her own.
The novel begins with Rose, but eventually moves to Ruby’s point of view and then switches back and forth. Because the girls face in slightly different directions, neither can see what the other is writing, and they don’t tell each other either. The reader is treated to sometimes overlapping stories told in two wonderfully distinct styles. Rose is given to introspection and secrecy. Ruby’s style is "tell-all" — frank and decidedly sweet.
We learn of their early years as the town "freaks" and of Lovey’s and Stash’s determination to give them as normal an upbringing as possible. But when we meet them, both Lovey and Stash are dead, the girls have moved back into town, and they’ve received some ominous news. They are on the verge of becoming the oldest surviving craniopagus (joined at the head) twins in history, but the question of whether they’ll live to celebrate their thirtieth birthday is suddenly impossible to answer.
In Rose and Ruby, Lori Lansens has created two precious characters, each distinct and loveable in their very different ways, and has given them a world in Leaford that rings absolutely true. The girls are unforgettable. The Girls is nothing short of a tour de force.
“I promise: you will never forget this extraordinary story...Lori Lansens' blend of tragedy and comedy will touch you deeply.”
“A tale of kindness, love, and the off things life throws at us, no matter our circumstances… The backdrop of sisters who share in essential brain vein offers complications that give the story special meaning, but Lansens' writing is so haunting and filled with the ache of dreams unrealized, the characters seem just like everyone else … Make sure, by the end, you have plenty of tissues handy.”
“An engagingly perverse novel about twins conjoined spiritually as well as physically.”
—The New York Times
“The Girls, by Lori Lansens, is a ballad, a melancholy song of two very strange, enchanted girls who live out their peculiar, ordinary lives is a rural corner of Canada....The Girls glides by like a watercolor dream, finding its poetry in dailiness and the universalities of human desire and connection....Lansens, who has a gentle, open way of writing, makes of these two girls a kind of perfect marriage, harmonious and everlasting.”
—The New York Times Book
“[The Girls] is an immensely readable novel, compelling and convincing....[A]n enchanting blend of the extraordinary and the everyday.”
“Now and then a book comes along that you want to savor – every phrase, every nuance, every little moment, you want to carry with you long after you've closed the cover. So it is with The Girls. … As much as you want Rose and Ruby's story to continue, you know it can't. But these unforgettable characters will live on outside the pages of this book.”
—The Indianapolis Star
“Remarkable. … This is a book that reaches beyond connection, beyond intimacy and necessity, beyond even love. Lansens has reached – and grasped – a story that asks us to consider the human condition. … The Girls will stay with you for a long time, as will your wish to have a heart as big as theirs.”
“Lori Lansens' novel The Girls is a perfect marriage of the unusual and the universal....The Girls can be read as an unironic portrait of the charms of small-town life in the mold of Anne of Green Gables or the early chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird....The Girls also diplays a sharp but affectionate understanding of human nature that makes it likely to stand the test of time.”
“This is not a book about the grotesque but a book about love, about being bound to someone else and accepting the situation gracefully, even gratefully.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A fascinating-and at times heartbreaking-read about two independent young women.”
“Extraordinarily moving: joyous, heartbreaking, and shot through with moments of dark humor.... The voices of Rose and Ruby cry out to be heard for their glorious celebration of humanity.”
“You won't pity the girls, but you'll feel richer for having seen their world.”
“In her second novel, author Lori Lansens makes a gentle, persuasive case for everyone's individuality, writing two first-person memoirs in the voices of twins linked permanently through a shared, and inseparable, vein in their attached heads.”
—The Boston Globe
“Lansens beats the odds: A book that could have been tasteless provides a complex consideration of identity and individuality, of sameness and difference, of what it means to be normal and what it takes to feel at home in the world.”
“[Lansens'] real triumph is this strange story's rich context: a Canadian farming community where we encounter the full spectrum of human frailty.”
“Lansens fully imparts the sweet triumph of such unique lives."
—The Daily News
“Lori Lansens creates two distinct voices with rare beauty.... Lansens handles issues of intimacy and privacy with warmth and humour.”
—The Sydney Morning Herald
“The Girls skilfully tackles a tricky subject with both laugh-out-loud humor and grace.”
“Pure joy . What wonderful writing.”
—Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World
“The novel is utterly compelling, the women's voices entirely distinct but contrapuntal and forthright, the story they tell together as emotionally powerful as any 'real' memoir. But what is truly clever about this novel is its resolute adherence, behind the guise of memoir, to the mandates of fiction, pushing us with the fantastical and the absurd-exercising our abilities to imagine.”
“It is the true test of a writer's mettle to create a convincing narrator, and Lori Lansens has done it not once but twice in her remarkable novel about conjoined twins. The two fascinating protagonists of The Girls live their lives together in every way, and yet nevertheless emerge with beliefs and desires all their own, and with distinct outlooks on their difficult circumstances. We are all fortunate for a novelist with so delicate and sensitive a touch.”
—Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
“Remarkable. … This is a deeply moving story of two unusual women and their struggles for independence and acceptance. This is one that will stay with you long after you read it.”
“Lansens overcomes the "ick" factor in this surprisingly moving story.... The novel's power lies in the wonderful narrative voices of Rose and Ruby. Lansens has created a richly nuanced, totally believable sibling relationship.... An unsentimental, heartwarming page-turner. Quite an achievement.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“The biggest achievement in the novel is bringing to life these two extraordinary characters to such a degree that readers may forget they are reading fiction.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Extraordinary. A masterful and sophisticated duet. a multidimensional vision of the sisters' lives.”
“A stunner… immensely exciting… a tribute to the extraordinariness of human consciousness… laced with delightful comic moments… not just a sophisticated literary accomplishment but a darned good read.”
“The best book of the year... a staggeringly beautiful, often wildly funny work about being different and proud of it… a wholly unique love story… awesome.”
“A compelling read (I devoured it in one sitting). Lansens' beautiful writing is so detailed that it is often easy to forget that the material is not based on a true story. She captures what it would be like never to sleep, bathe, go for a walk, or meet friends on your own.”
“A masterful tale.”
“The Girls skilfully tackles a tricky subject with both laugh-out-loud humor and grace.”
My husband, Milan, is a director, and works long hours on film sets. We had been together for seventeen years before we had our first child. Being a writer, I’m a bit of a recluse so I was accustomed to spending most of my days alone. I became pregnant with my first child, a boy, shortly after I started to write my first novel, Rush Home Road. My husband read the first draft of it in the days before our son was born and we discussed plot points while I was in labor. A few months later we brought out baby to New York for a brief, exciting debut novel auction. Later, I nursed him in a packed boardroom when I made my first US book deal. My memories of motherhood are intertwined with those of my path as a novelist. By the time the book tour for Rush Home Road came around I was pregnant with my second child, a daughter. Transitioning from reclusive writer to mother of two was a shocking, though entirely welcome, shift. Still, I was alone with my two babies for days and sometimes weeks at a time if my husband was out of town shooting. I had a child – or two – on my lap, hip or breast for years. I thought a lot about the physical intimacy of motherhood, and the way that my children were themselves but also extensions of me.
I’m most attracted to characters on the fringes, characters who are marginalized by society because they’re different in some way, and I’d always had an interest in people whose physical appearance were not typical. My intense connection with my children – both physical and emotional – was the jumping off point for writing about conjoined twin girls.
The setting, Baldoon County, is the same patch of earth from the first novel. I wanted to explore the humanity of Rose and Ruby Darlen in a setting where they weren’t often seen by strangers, where people didn’t stare – where they didn’t feel like freaks, where they could be just The Girls. It was the Indian artifacts from my hometown’s rich history that made their appearance in this book. I was attracted to the idea that Ruby, in finding arrowheads and pipes from some long-ago encampment, was somehow resurrecting the dead.
The story is told by both girls, like a memoir in alternating chapters, but when I first began to write I imagined that Rose would tell about their lives and show her chapters to Ruby for comments and quips to include at the end. It quickly became apparent that Rose could not show Ruby any of what she’d written – the truth as she saw it. The girls shared every breath, but they didn’t live the same life. Their contradictions reveal as much about them as their outright confessions. Keeping her writing private meant that Rose could tell the truth. As soon as it was Ruby’s turn to speak I heard her voice load and clear. I could only write in the voice of one twin at a time, and I needed breaks in between to transition from one to the other. Their voices were distinct to me and they each demanded my full attention. I still think of them.