Born holding hands, Giselle and Isabelle Boyer have the kind of twinship you hear about in weird news. They feel each other’s pain, and can practically read each other’s minds. But in Edwidge Danticat‘s Untwine, the girls’ sisterhood takes a turn for the worst when Giselle experiences something Isabelle never will: the feeling of her sister dying.
Giselle lies in the hospital, paralyzed but conscious — and mistaken for Isabelle. With little ability to do anything else, the narrator reflects on the events leading up to her sister’s death: from the trajectory of their parents’ marriage to the traffic that night. Along the way, she comes to realize that she and her sister were already beginning to separate before her death, and finds a way to keep moving forward, untwinned.
At times, Danticat’s prose made me feel as if I were reading about a pair of precocious 8th-graders instead of two maturing 16-year-olds. Giselle’s recollections and analyses of events are poignant, but her voice waffles between stereotypical teenager and morose 28-year-old. Given that she’s in her mid-teens, I’m willing to overlook the inconsistency as a natural part of her coming-of-age.
Less forgivable, however, is the mystery that develops in the back half of the novel. When details call into question whether Isabelle’s death was an accident, Untwine begins to pick up speed. But the issue resolves with little significance, and no real impact on the narrator, leaving the reader to wonder if something critical wound up in the wastebasket.
Ultimately, Untwine unravels slowly, but steadily. Readers are sure to connect with Giselle’s melancholy extrication of herself from her sister’s memory. Despite its flaws, Danticat’s novel proves to be a lovely thing.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for my review.
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Image: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation/flickr