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The Girls

by Lori Lansens

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small town, twins, conjoined twins
list price: $12.99
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
category: Fiction
published: 2007
ISBN:9781400025398
publisher: Knopf Canada
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Description

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpt

ruby & me

~

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.

My sister, Ruby, and I, by mishap or miracle, having intended to divide from a single fertilized egg, remained joined instead, by a spot the size of a bread plate on the sides of our twin heads. We’re known to the world medical community as the oldest surviving craniopagus twins (we are twenty-­nine years old) and to millions around the globe, those whose interest in people like us is more than just passing, as conjoined craniopagus twins Rose and Ruby Darlen of Baldoon County. We’ve been called many things: freaks, horrors, monsters, devils, witches, retards, wonders, marvels. To most, we’re a curiosity. In small-­town Leaford, where we live and work, we’re just “The Girls.”

Raise your right hand. Press the base of your palm to the lobe of your right ear. Cover your ear and fan out your fingers – that’s where my sister and I are affixed, our faces not quite side by side, our skulls fused together in a circular pattern running up the temple and curving around the frontal lobe. If you glance at us, you might think we’re two women embracing, leaning against the other ­tête-­à-­tête, the way sisters do.

Ruby and I are identical twins and would be identical looking, having high foreheads like our mother and wide, full mouths, except that Ruby’s face is arranged quite nicely (in fact, Ruby is very beautiful), whereas my features are misshapen and frankly grotesque. My right eye slants steeply towards the place my right ear would have been if my sister’s head had not grown there instead. My nose is longer than Ruby’s, one nostril wider than the other, pulled to the right of my brown slanted eye. My lower jaw shifts to the left, slurring my speech and giving a husky quality to my voice. Patches of eczema rouge my cheeks, while Ruby’s complexion is fair and flawless. Our scalps marry in the middle of our conjoined heads, but my frizzy hair has a glint of auburn, while my sister is a swingy brunette. Ruby has a deep cleft in her chin, which people find ­endearing.

I’m five feet five inches tall. When we were born, my limbs were symmetrical, in proportion to my body. Presently, my right leg is a full three inches shorter than my left, my spine compressed, my right hip cocked, and all because I have carried my sister like an infant, since I was a baby myself, Ruby’s tiny thighs astride my hip, my arm supporting her posterior, her arm forever around my neck. Ruby is my sister. And strangely, undeniably, my ­child.

There is some discomfort in our conjoinment. Ruby and I experience mild to severe neck, jaw, and shoulder pain, for which we take physiotherapy three times a week. The strain on my body is constant, as I bear Ruby’s weight, as I tote Ruby on my hip, as I struggle to turn Ruby over in our bed or perch on my stool beside the toilet for what seems like hours. (Ruby has a multitude of bowel and urinary tract problems.) We are challenged, certainly, and uncomfortable, sometimes, but neither Ruby nor I would describe our conjoinment as painful.

It’s difficult to explain our locomotion as conjoined twins or how it developed from birth using grunts and gestures and what I suppose must be telepathy. There are days when, like a normal person, we’re clumsy and uncoordinated. We have less natural symbiosis when one of us (usually Ruby) is sick, but mostly our dance is a smooth one. We hate doing things in unison, such as answering yes or no at the same time. We never finish each other’s sentences. We can’t shake our heads at once or nod (and wouldn’t if we could – see above). We have an unspoken, even unconscious, system of checks and balances to determine who’ll lead the way at any given moment. There is conflict. There is ­compromise.

Ruby and I share a common blood supply. My blood flows normally in the left side of my brain, but the blood in my right (the connected side) flows to my sister’s left, and vice versa for her. It’s estimated that we share a web of one hundred veins as well as our skull bones. Our cerebral tissue is fully enmeshed, our vascular systems snarled like briar bushes, but our brains themselves are separate and functioning. Our thoughts are distinctly our own. Our selves have struggled fiercely to be unique and, in fact, we’re more different than most identical twins. I like sports, but I’m also bookish, while Ruby is girlie and prefers television. When Ruby is tired, I’m hardly ever ready for bed. We’re rarely hungry together and our tastes are poles apart: I prefer spicy fare, while my sister has a disturbing fondness for ­eggs.

Ruby believes in God and ghosts and reincarnation. (Ruby won’t speculate on her next incarnation though, as if imagining something different from what she is now would betray us both.) I believe the best the dead can hope for is to be conjured from time to time, through a note of haunting music or a passage in a book.

I’ve never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby’s gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.
This is the story of my life. I’m calling it “Autobiography of a Conjoined Twin.” But since my sister claims that it can’t technically (“technically” is Ruby’s current favourite word) be considered an autobiography and is opposed to my telling what she considers our story, I have agreed that she should write some chapters from her point of view. I will strive to tell my story honestly, allowing that my truth will be coloured a shade different from my sister’s and acknowledging that it’s sometimes necessary for the writer to connect the dots.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Contributor notes

Lori Lansens is the author of two bestselling novels, Rush Home Road and The Girls, which was a Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year in 2006 (and sold over 300,000 copies in the UK) and a finalist for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, Lori Lansens now makes her home in California.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Review

"Lansens overcomes the ‘ick’ factor in this surprisingly moving story... The novel's power lies in the wonderful narrative voices of Rose and Ruby. Lansens has created a richly nuanced, totally believable sibling relationship... An unsentimental, heartwarming page-turner. Quite an achievement."
–Starred Kirkus Review

"It is the true test of a writer’s mettle to create a convincing narrator, and Lori Lansens has done it not once but twice in her remarkable novel about conjoined twins. The two fascinating protagonists of “The Girls” live their lives together in every way, and yet nevertheless emerge with beliefs and desires all their own, and with distinct outlooks on their difficult circumstances. Lori Lansens is clearly a novelist with a very delicate touch."
–Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

The Girls, the year’s best book to come out of Canada, possibly the world. There’s deep craft at work here. The Girls communicates astute insights into the art of the memoir and tackles plot development that would sink most other writers. Lansens navigates them effortlessly. Awesome.”
NOW magazine

"I promise: you will never forget this extraordinary story. Love, connection, loyalty, raw humanity and much more are the ingredients of this most unusual novel. Lori Lansens's blend of tragedy and comedy will touch you deeply.
–Isabel Allende

“A stunner…immensely exciting…a tribute to the extraordinariness of human consciousness…laced with delightful comic moments…not just a sophisticated literary accomplishment but a darned good read.”
Toronto Star

“Extraordinary…a masterful and sophisticated duet…a multidimensional vision of the sisters’ lives.”
Time Magazine

“A compelling read (I devoured it in one sitting)…Lansens’ beautiful writing is so detailed that it is often easy to forget that the material is not based on a true story. She captures what it would be like never to sleep, bathe, go for a walk or meet friends on your own.”
The National Post

From the Hardcover edition.

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