(Houghton Mifflin, 276 pages, $23)
When Jane Alison was 4, she met a girl from overseas named Jenny, who shared her birthday and had a family much like her own. Both girls’ fathers were diplomats, their mothers were near equals in charm and beauty, and each girl had a 7-year-old older sister. For one glorious half-year in Australia, the four parents and the four children were inseparable. But when Jenny’s family had to return to America, the adults made an unusual decision: They would trade spouses. Suddenly, Jane and her sister were bidding goodbye to their father and following their mother and a stand-in dad to Washington, D.C. Their real father had replacement girls.
Jane Alison is now a novelist, and she recounts the “extraordinary facts” of her own life with an “unflinching eye,” said Mameve Medwed in The Boston Globe. The parents apparently assumed that their trade would work out fine, but the girls in The Sisters Antipodes all struggle with “the blackness of loss.” Intense transglobal rivalries spring up between them. Jenny “spirals downward” after reaching adolescence, cutting her wrists and taking up heroin. Jane pushes herself to become a superachiever but also, tortured by feelings of jealousy toward Jenny, “obliterates” her “father-longings” with binge drinking and promiscuous sex. Can love even be said to exist, the author wonders, if a father can leave his daughter? Her book examines such questions “not just obsessively but excessively.”
The Sisters Antipodes might have been better if the narrator had allowed even more years for healing, said Francine du Plessix Gray in The New York Times. Though she recounts her own stretch of bad behavior “with wonderfully harrowing vividness,” the story is muddled by “turgid” metaphors and “tedious” ruminations about memory. Even so, the book is “sprinkled with breathtaking intuitions,” said Rachel Rosenblit in Elle. Its author worries that her family won’t welcome this public airing of their history. She shouldn’t. She has “spent so many years just figuring out” to whom she belongs that the book “seems less a breach of family ties than an act of bravery.”