Sisters by Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck’s latest novella, Sisters, opens with a quote from Christopher Nicholson’s Winter“First and second wives are like sisters.” The quote sets the scene for the unnamed narrator’s story, who describes life with her new husband, his two teenagers, and the unbanishable presence of his first wife, ominously known only as ‘she’.

A partnership that stems from a betrayal is on uneven ground from the outset – history is on the side of the ex; there will always be nagging doubts about trust; and comparisons will be made.

And during those same evenings after dinner when we both had drunk too many glasses of wine, I also wanted to ask him: And who do you love best? Me or her? And who fucks best, me or her?

Tuck’s cool, precise narrator delivers her story with an obsessive but clinical tone. Her recall of seemingly unimportant details (particularly about what she was wearing and what she ate) provides a catalogue, documenting her marriage – and yet, we know that what she is actually dissecting is not shirts and dinners. Instead, these details and her speculation about the life of the first wife, create mounting tension. The ending to this story seems inevitable but Tuck is cunning and delivers a climax that is undeniably surprising.

I received my copy of Sisters from the publisher, Grove Atlantic, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

3.5/5 Brilliant choice for a quick, gripping read.

I can remember exactly what we ate at that dinner party: smoked salmon on toast to start with, then duck à l’órange, wild rice, and French string beans, then salad with assorted cheeses, and a crème brulée for dessert. All of it delicious.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 15): Belfast 13°-22° and Melbourne 5°-16°.

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12 responses

    • Agree – usually more ‘plot’ and character development than a short story but delivers a twist. From memory this one is about 170 pages – I started it one night and finished it the next morning.

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

    • Perfect book to take on a train trip or equivalent – short, punchy but also plenty to think about. Also lots of references to art and music that you could delve deeper into if that was of interest (I’m sure they were all very carefully chosen).

  2. You don’t give a setting for this one, though I assume it is American. Wives and husbands are generally curious about their predecessors in my experience. (I hasten to add there were ‘decent’ intervals between my marriages). Any odium was always directed at me for contrasting the previous wife’s perfection with the current wife’s faults.

    • Funny, because the setting was quite generic and even the time period wasn’t obvious. I guess that it was America because it’s Tuck but either way, the setting is not distracting because it’s mostly a stream-of-consciousness story.

      I think a ‘decent interval’ makes for very different circumstances than the ‘moving straight in with the mistress’ scenario! As one of my friends often points out, “Marry the mistress, create a vacancy”.

  3. Fortunately Mr Books first marriage was so unhappy from the beginning, that I’ve never had cause to ask or compare!

    But it’s weird that I too am halfway through a Tuck book. Mine is about the end of a marriage too, but through old age & death. Quite gut wrenching in places. But also easy & quick to read.

    • I saw on Goodreads you were reading Tuck as well. Sisters was the first I’ve read by her, but will certainly seek out more. I suspect that she has her favourite themes.

  4. Pingback: Art-lit | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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