A powerhouse of 18 women writers reflect on sisters (not on PC sisterhood) in a medley of tales that commemorates the sometimes hateful, sometimes tender and trusting bond between two women who grow up together. According to Whitney Otto's opening chapter, "Seven Sisters: An Analysis of Numbers," sisters don't even have to share genes. A provocative list of possible sororal relationships includes sisters-in-law and sorority sisters. What defines a sister, says editor O'Keefe (who also edited an anthology called Mother, not reviewed), is a mutual history and culture, whispered secrets, and longevity. Celebrating—or sometimes damning—the relationsip are such heavyweight authors as Marilyn French and Fay Weldon, as well as less well-known but talented writers, like Caroline Leavitt, who have contributed original writings to this collection; Alice Walker, Ann Beattie, Cristina Garcia and others offer reprints of relevant stories or excerpts from novels. Leavitt's compelling piece sets sister against sister because of a man (he loses); Weldon, in "Pyroclastic Flow," creates a sister and a brother-in-law who give her a pain in the neck. Susan Palwick combines mysticism and earthiness in "G.I. Jesus," a story of separation and reunion; also on another plane is poet Rita Dove's account of Beauty's sisters, withering at home while her wild romance with the Beast flourishes. Alice Walker's story is of a mother who is forced to choose between her daughters. Ethnic bases are covered in stories from Hispanic, Asian, and Eastern European authors. Closest to capturing the essence of a sisterly relationship is Carol Edgarian's "Sister Rue." "My sister is not my friend'she is too close, knows too much," says Edgarian. "The gift my sister and I give each other is the truth." Vital and celebratory, with no sloppy sentiment, these stories are honest as only sisters can be.
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