SECOND IN MY SERIES ON GEMS THAT ARE EASY TO MISS: One of the most aggravating aspects of book publishing these days is that it has fallen into the same celebrity trap as every other medium, letting a handful of books and authors get the spotlight and 99.9 per cent of the sales. With all due respect to the Swedish crime wave (an aside: I loved the kinky but well-paced movie version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), let's mix it up a little, shall we?
On that note, here's a new work of fiction that deserves some air time: Beverly Jensen's "The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay." Although a promising writer, Jensen died in 2003 from pancreatic cancer before producing a single book with her name on the cover. This interlocked collection of short stories that reads like a novel got published because her husband, Jay Silverman, and a couple of well-known writers pushed to make it happen. Now it's up to us, the readers, to make sure it finds the audience it deserves.
I didn't realize that I'd read part of "Sisters" until near the end, when I came upon the part Stephen King chose for "2007 Best American Short Stories." "Wake" is an affecting set piece about siblings reunited to accompany their father's body to its final resting place (shades of William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"). The larger theme of the book, however, is the arc of two sisters' lives, from the death of their mother when they were young girls living on the New Brunswick coast in the early 1900s through the course of their adult lives in New England.
The characters of Idella and Avis Hillock evoke another era, when money was scarce and opportunity even more so for those of modest means. Each tries to make the best of her life as suits her talents and temperaments -- one becomes the hardworking wife of a philandering spouse, the other a good-time gal who goes through men like most of us do panty hose (except that panty hose are more reliable than the kind of guys she pairs up with). But even with all the men in the picture, this is not a flashy novel, nor a titillating one. In fact, if street-tough tattooed computer hackers are what it takes to keep your eyes on the page, this book probably isn't your thing. But if you like a comforting, real-folks story (or stories) as much as an exciting one, this book about a struggling family and two sisters who try to watch out for each other has a place on your night table. Kudos to Viking for getting "The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay" on the shelf.