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The Girls [Hardcover]

Lori Lansens
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 20 2005
In Lori Lansens’ astonishing second novel, readers come to know and love two of the most remarkable characters in Canadian fiction. Rose and Ruby are twenty-nine-year-old conjoined twins. Born during a tornado to a shocked teenaged mother in the hospital at Leaford, Ontario, they are raised by the nurse who helped usher them into the world. Aunt Lovey and her husband, Uncle Stash, are middle-aged and with no children of their own. They relocate from the town to the drafty old farmhouse in the country that has been in Lovey’s family for generations.

Joined to Ruby at the head, Rose’s face is pulled to one side, but she has full use of her limbs. Ruby has a beautiful face, but her body is tiny and she is unable to walk. She rests her legs on her sister’s hip, rather like a small child or a doll.

In spite of their situation, the girls lead surprisingly separate lives. Rose is bookish and a baseball fan. Ruby is fond of trash TV and has a passion for local history.

Rose has always wanted to be a writer, and as the novel opens, she begins to pen her autobiography. Here is how she begins:

I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane 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 lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.

Ruby, with her marvellous characteristic logic, points out that Rose’s autobiography will have to be Ruby’s as well — and how can she trust Rose to represent her story accurately? Soon, Ruby decides to chime in with chapters of her own.

The novel begins with Rose, but eventually moves to Ruby’s point of view and then switches back and forth. Because the girls face in slightly different directions, neither can see what the other is writing, and they don’t tell each other either. The reader is treated to sometimes overlapping stories told in two wonderfully distinct styles. Rose is given to introspection and secrecy. Ruby’s style is "tell-all" — frank and decidedly sweet.

We learn of their early years as the town "freaks" and of Lovey’s and Stash’s determination to give them as normal an upbringing as possible. But when we meet them, both Lovey and Stash are dead, the girls have moved back into town, and they’ve received some ominous news. They are on the verge of becoming the oldest surviving craniopagus (joined at the head) twins in history, but the question of whether they’ll live to celebrate their thirtieth birthday is suddenly impossible to answer.

In Rose and Ruby, Lori Lansens has created two precious characters, each distinct and loveable in their very different ways, and has given them a world in Leaford that rings absolutely true. The girls are unforgettable. The Girls is nothing short of a tour de force.

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In 29 years, Rose Darlen has never spent a moment apart from her twin sister, Ruby. She has never gone for a solitary walk or had a private conversation. Yet, in all that time, she has never once looked into Ruby's eyes. Joined at the head, "The Girls" (as they are known in their small Ontario town) are the world's oldest surviving craniopagus twins. In her astonishing second novel, Lori Lansens (author of Rush Home Road) ventures into the strange world of physical abnormality that Barbara Gowdy so chillingly explored in We So Seldom Look on Love. While some writers might be tempted to play up the grotesque aspects of life as a conjoined twin, Lansens treats her so-called freaks with sensitivity and respect. The result is an extraordinarily moving narrative about human connectedness that questions the very meaning of "normal."

The Girls is a fictional autobiography of the Darlen twins, mostly told by Rose but with occasional chapters by Ruby. The stronger and more frustrated of the two, Rose longs to become a published writer but tends to conceal or distort disturbing incidents from their shared past. Ruby, by contrast, tells it like it is, but is much more accepting of their intertwined fate. (Ruby is also the prettier twin, and one of the most poignant and shocking scenes in the novel is Rose's account of her--or rather their--first sexual experience.) As Rose and Ruby describe their relatively sheltered childhood, rocky adolescence, and tentative experiments with love, the interplay between these two distinct voices heightens the dramatic tension of what's to come. The saddest part is saying good-bye--to "The Girls" and to this compassionately written novel. --Lisa Alward

From Publishers Weekly

Conjoined twins Rose and Ruby Darlen are linked at the side of the head, with separate brains and bodies. Born in a small town outside Toronto in the midst of a tornado and abandoned by their unwed teenage mother two weeks later, the girls are cared for by Aunt Lovey, a nurse who refuses to see them as deformed or even disabled. She raises them in Leaford, Ontario, where, at age 29, Rose, the more verbal and bookish twin, begins writing their story—i.e., this novel, which begins, "I have never looked into my sister's eyes." Showing both linguistic skill and a gift for observation, Lansens's Rose evokes country life, including descriptions of corn and crows, and their neighbors Mrs. Merkel, who lost her only son in the tornado, and Frankie Foyle, who takes the twins' virginity. Rose shares her darkest memory (public humiliation during a visit to their Slovakian-born Uncle Stash's hometown) and her deepest regret, while Ruby, the prettier, more practical twin, who writes at her sister's insistence, offers critical details, such as what prompted Rose to write their life story. Through their alternating narratives, Lansens captures a contradictory longing for independence and togetherness that transcends the book's enormous conceit. (May 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary Extraordinariness Oct. 7 2007
By Dave and Joe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I finished this book only moments ago, had to wipe the tears from my eyes. Seldom has a book had such a huge impact on my life. Rose and Ruby's (the girls) mother makes the observation that in every ordinary life is an extraordinary story ... this book itself proves the opposite is also true. Two people who are vastly different are also entirely similar. The books goes 'behind the stares' to see who it is that we look at ... and who is looking back at us. I became a wheelchair user a couple years ago and was surprised how much I changed in the eyes of others, how I had moved to a different land, crossed a border. This book speaks to living in the land I now inhabit. It does so with wit and grace. I am utterly in awe of this accomplishment.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Wondrous April 27 2006
While initially skeptical of an able=bodied author delving into the world of conjoined twins (the potential for disaster was there), I came away from this book profoundly moved. Lansens has crafted a powerful, thoughtful, wickedly funny, and emotionally poignant novel about these two memorable characters.
The two women (Rose and Ruby) rarely stray into the 'inspirational cripple' model that's found so often in media images of disabled people. Instead, they come across as human - with faults, flaws and even farts!
More than that, they reveal desires, fears, and hopes that help make them fully-fleshed out characters rather than circus caricatures.
I recommend this book highly and without reservation. It was a pure delight to read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing novel Feb. 6 2006
By A Customer
This may be one of the best books I've ever read. It will make you laugh and make you cry. You will fall in love with these girls and not want their story to end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and engrossing Feb. 12 2010
I was given a copy of this book; otherwise I probably would never have read it. But I'm SO glad I did! It was like reading an actual autobiography rather than a novel. I loved every minute of it and it left me wanting more.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fictional story that you can believe is true Jan. 2 2014
I was enthralled with this story right from the start. The author must have done a lot of research as it all seems so real and gives a good insight into the lives of con joined twins. Many freedoms we each take for granted can never be realized by them, they cannot do anything alone. Although sad in some parts, it was always entertaining and enlightening. It also full of hope.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fell in love with "The Girls" Oct. 9 2012
Lori Larsens' The Girls is a novel about twin sisters - conjoined twins - who are born and raised by their adoptive "Aunt" and "Uncle" in southwestern Ontario. The sisters, Rose and Ruby, take turns telling their story and I had to remind myself that this was fiction. Larsens skillfully tells their life story so realistically that it reads more like a biography. The power of the novel lies in how well it portrays what it would be like to never be alone and to have to accommodate and compromise with another your entire life. And the Ontario setting made it even more interesting for a Canadian like me. Really enjoyed it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A 'must read' book Sept. 27 2012
I have just finished one of the tattiest paper backs that I have ever read - and enjoyed every page of it, even the loose ones which I have had to chase after as they have fluttered about. Previous reviewers have described the story of Rose and Ruby so I will not go in to detail except to confirm that it is unbelievable that this book is actually a novel. It reads as a joint autobiography written in a very personal way by the twins and gives an amazing account of their lives. It is amusing and heartbreakingly sad, often both at the same time. A lovely book - I am just sellotaping the loose pages back in so that I can pass it on to MY sister to read. Or maybe I'll buy her a new copy . . . . . . !

PS I have just realised that I have posted this on the 'hardback' review - my copy was a second hand paperback. Sorry!
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gave it a good shot and couldn't finish it Nov. 29 2007
My response is similar to that of the reader who thought the book had potential BUT... After initial enthusiasm for the novel, I frankly became quite bored with it. Told in two voices (which aren't always particularly distinct--hence the use of two different fonts), the book has an initially inviting conversational tone. However, as everyone knows, transcripts of conversations can be rather dull and repetitive--and that's what the book often feels like: a transcript which needed a good "editing out" of extraneous detail. For example, I got really tired of one of the characters repeatedly saying "back to the story". (This is my point: there are so many digressions, that the story--whatever it is--sort of gets lost.) I felt the author did not give enough attention to the structure of the narrative. The story is "all over the place", and the narrative doesn't unfold in carefully thought-out way. Information is revealed in a random and haphazard manner. These factors made me completely lose interest halfway through. I pushed myself along, hoping things would improve. At two-thirds of the way, I just gave up. While I quite agree that this is an interesting topic--one that makes one ponder--the novel's clumsiness--its lack of artistry--was distracting to me. Hence, I was not able to enter Rose and Ruby's world. In the end, I was quite disappointed with The Girls. Obviously, lots of people are enthusiastic about Lansen's novel and I respect that and the author's obvious sincerity in bringing different lives to the page. If you, the reader, aren't irked by stylistic and structural weaknesses, the book may interest you.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts...
I read The Girls by Lori Lansens a couple of months ago but, now that I can comment on it, I feel compelled to contribute to its publicity! Read more
Published on May 30 2011 by Reader Writer Runner
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfuly Canadian and humbling
I loved this book! So much that I had to pass it along to friends. The girls will engross you with their life story, though fiction, it feels real. Read more
Published on June 3 2010 by Carrie A. Harfman
5.0 out of 5 stars Normal Against All Odds
Conjoined twins tell their life story just before dying. I initially resisted reading this book because it smacked of voyeurism at a freak show. I was wrong. Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2010 by R. Redekop
4.0 out of 5 stars unusual and interesting
At first I was apprehensive about reading the book because of the unusual nature of the characters...Conjoined twins are not really a topic that is discussed everyday. Read more
Published on Nov. 25 2009 by C. Allinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably believable!
Lyrical, poetic prose opens this heartwarming and unique story of conjoined twins Rose and Ruby and the lives they led, both separately as two individuals with different likes and... Read more
Published on May 8 2008 by Cheryl Tardif
5.0 out of 5 stars LIFE IS WHAT ONE MAKES OF IT...
This is a beautifully written story about conjoined twins named Rose and Ruby. Abandoned by their mother at birth, they are adopted by a kindly couple, Lovey and Stash Darlen. Read more
Published on March 14 2008 by Lawyeraau
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising
I picked this book up thinking as it was intended that it would be a light read. I will always carry the characters from this book within me. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2008 by Business
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