The Girls by Lori Lansens. ( Back Bay Books, 2005)
I enjoy watching The Learning Channel’s hit show, Thousand Pound Sisters. Every time my husband, Tom, catches me watching it, he shakes his head and mutters, “I don’t know why you watch this show. . .” (To be fair, I don’t get The Mandalorian, but each to his own).
So, why do I watch Thousand Pound Sisters, a reality show about two sisters, Tammy, who weighs 600 pounds, and Amy, who tips the scales close to 400 pounds when the show begins? The personalities of these two beautiful ladies, who have so many problems, are delightful despite their size and the challenges that it brings them. I find Tammy and Amy to be adorable, loving, and human. Watching their trials and tribulations is being a voyeur in their homes. I cheer for them; I cry with them. I can relate to them and their problems in a way that is fascinating to me.
Lori Lansens’ unforgettable novel, The Girls, is similar in many ways to the TLC show. From the first paragraph of the book, the intrigue hooks the reader into the story of twins who are craniopagus twins, meaning that they are conjoined at the head.
The more articulate twin, Rose Darlen, an aspiring author, has decided to craft a book about her life experiences, and opens the book with this statement:
I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I
have never raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an air-
plane 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 times as me, to be loved so exponentially.
Despite the challenges being attached at the head brings, Rose, and Ruby, her twin, never feel sorry for themselves, but manage their lives as individuals with distinctly different personalities, desires, and needs. The characters are wrought beautifully; they quarrel frequently, but they always work through their differences and come to detente. At one point Rose confesses, “I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.”
Around the town of Leaford, in Canada, where the girls have spent their lives, they are well known in the community and referred to affectionately as “the girls.” They are accustomed to being stared at, but in a small town such as theirs, people are used to the oddity of their appearance, and the twins manage to get jobs working in the local library, where children love to listen to them read stories aloud.
The circumstances of their birth are mired in tragedy. Their mother, an 18 year old, unmarried woman, gives her name as Elizabeth Taylor, when she checks into the hospital during a tornado, a rare event in Canada. As their mother labors, a local child, Larry Merkel, is swept away on his bicycle, never to be found. The spirit of Larry hovers over the twins, throughout their lives, a never ending source of interest and tragedy to their imaginative minds. Their mother is a neighbor, whose grief is relentless throughout the story. Larry is lost to his mother in the same way that Rose and Ruby’s mother is lost to them.
As their mother is whisked away after the birth of her daughters, only to die of sepsis two weeks later, Rose and Ruby are adopted by the nurse who attended to their birth, Lovey Darlen, and her Slovakian husband, Uncle Stash. Childless, the Darlens are the perfect parents for the “girls,” as they encourage their independence and nurture their souls.
As Rose imparts her story, Ruby interjects with entries sporadically, but it is mostly Rose’s side of things that we see. Rose carries the story, just as she has supported her smaller sister throughout their lives. Due to the way that they are conjoined, Rose must carry Ruby in order for them to walk. Thus, Rose bears the weight, literally, if the two want to move.
I cannot express strongly enough how haunting The Girls is. Lansens has created characters of depth and humanity, and most importantly, the theme of individuality is carried out as the book nears its conclusion. Rose and Ruby have a goal to be the longest living craniopagus twins in history, which would mean that they would achieve the ripe age of 30. Although the probability of an early death hangs over the twins, Rose never loses her sense of humor and intuitive way of viewing the world and people around her. She is curious, intellectual, and wants desperately to be kissed, just once, by a man. Although Ruby is quite beautiful, Rose’s face is distorted by the way in which their heads are attached.
But, as Rose tells us in the opening of the book, she is lucky in her life because she has been loved. Recognizing that love, makes her life complete and well lived.
I finished reading The Girls several days ago, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Rich in every way that a great novel should be, character development, strong thematic elements, and a great story to imperfect human beings, don’t miss Lori Lansens’ The Girls.