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Reviews of "I See You Everywhere" and "The Flying Troutmans"

Two new novels center on the complex, competitive love between sisters.

By Yvonne Zipp / November 18, 2008



As far as fraught relationships go, it’s hard to top the bond between sisters. (Although mothers and daughters probably take the ultimate prize.) Two new novels center on the complex, competitive love between sisters, complicated by mental illness.

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In terms of the ease with which emotional damage is inflicted, it’s not exactly a Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy world out there.

“Ever notice how sisters, when they aren’t best friends, make particularly vicious enemies?” asks Clem, the younger, favored sister in Julia Glass’s beautiful threnody I See You Everywhere.

(No, it’s not just paranoia: Her mother even admitted Clem was her favorite child – out loud, at a party, where both girls could hear.) “I wonder sometimes what kind of sisters we’ll be when we’re ancient (if we ever are).”

Clem calls her brainy, brittle, older sister Louisa “the Judge. À la the Salem witchcraft trials.”

“She did homework. I did everything else,” Clem says, summing up their roles. Of animal-loving Clem, whose beauty and energy overlay an inner pessimism, Louisa says, “She’s like Jonathan Schell and Rachel Carson rolled into one, a real downer sometimes.”

Louisa is deeply suspicious of Clem, always thinking her sister is out to steal her boyfriends (OK, there was that one time in college) and constantly feeling inferior. She has the sneaking suspicion that her mother is right: that Clem, with her vitality and recklessness, is living a more complete life.

“I want to outshine her, I want to be the wiser, the smarter, the better loved,” Louisa says plaintively. “But I want to keep an eye on her. She is, after all, irreplaceable.”

Louisa sees the shape of her bond with Clem as “a double helix, two souls coiling around a common axis, joined yet never touching.”

“I See You Everywhere,” which incorporates more of Glass’s personal history than any of her previous novels, is structured in the same way, with each sister providing her own narrative at junctures when their lives spiral closer together.

Louisa, who lives in New York and manages an art journal, looks for marriage and stability. Clem, meanwhile, heads to far-flung wildernesses – counting seals in Maine or working with grizzly bears in Montana – and leaving discarded relationships in her wake.

Her jealous adoration keeps Louisa from seeing there may be a darker reason Clem keeps trying out new locales and men. “I’ve tried, I really have, to let go of the world – but I can’t,” Clem tells readers during a stint in California. “The world weighs so much, and it bears down so hard.”

The elegant “I See You Everywhere” marks a return to the form that won Glass a National Book Award for “Three Junes.” No one would ever accuse the Troutman family of elegance.

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