Beauty

Book Club



The Girls
By Lori Lansens
Vintage Canada, Random House of Canada
464 pages

“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.’”

Rose and Ruby Darlen are closer than most twin sisters. Indeed, they have spent their twenty-nine years on earth joined at the head. Given that they share a web of essential veins, there is no possibility that they can be separated in their lifetime.

Born in a small town in the midst of a tornado, the sisters are abandoned by their frightened teenaged mother and create a circus-like stir in the medical community. The attending nurse, however, sees their true beauty and decides to adopt them. Aunt Lovey is a warm-hearted, no-nonsense woman married to a gentle immigrant butcher, Uncle Stash. The middle-aged couple moves to a farm where the girls – “not hidden but unseen” – can live as normal a life as possible.

For identical twins, Rose and Ruby are remarkably different both on the inside and out. Ruby has a beautiful face whereas Rose’s features are, in her own words, “misshapen and frankly grotesque.” And whereas Rose’s body is fully formed, Ruby’s bottom half is dwarfish – with her tiny thighs resting on Rose’s hip, she must be carried around like a small child or doll. The differences in their tastes are no less distinct. A poet and avid reader, Rose is also huge sports fan. Ruby, on the other hand, would sooner watch television than crack open a book – that is, anything but sports. They are rarely ready for bed at the same time and whereas Rose loves spicy food, Ruby has a “disturbing fondness for eggs.”

On the eve of their thirtieth birthday, Rose sets out to write her autobiography. But because their lives have been so closely shared, Ruby insists on contributing the occasional chapter. And so, as Rose types away on her laptop, the technophobic Ruby scribbles longhand on a yellow legal pad. They’ve established one rule for their co-writing venture: neither is allowed to see what the other has written. Together, they tell the story of their lives as the world’s oldest surviving craniopagus twins – the literary Rose and straight-talking Ruby often seeing the same event in wildly different ways. Despite their extreme medical condition, the sisters express emotional truths that every reader will identify with: on losing a loved one, the hard lessons of compromise, the first stirrings of sexual desire, the pain of abandonment, and the transcendent power of love.

Rose and Ruby Darlen of Baldoon County, Ontario, are two of the most extraordinary and unforgettable characters to spring into our literature. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, “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.” The National Post writes: “Lansens’s 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.”

Read an excerpt here
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