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SISTER by A. Manette Ansay

SISTER

By A. Manette Ansay

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-688-14449-7
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

 Second-novelist Ansay (Vinegar Hill, 1994) again traces the scars of childhood emotional abuse--here, strikingly rendered, the crippling and even deadly effects of abuse on the lives of Abby and Sam Schiller, the children of a sadistic small-town midwestern car dealer, as they grow toward troubled adulthood in the 1970s and '80s. The characters are vivid, the reconstruction of events suspenseful and convincing. Abby, the narrator, now 30, married, settled in New York State, and pregnant with her first child, is haunted by the memory of her younger brother's baffling disappearance from their hometown of Horton, Wisconsin, one summer afternoon in 1984, 12 years before; he was never seen again. At an emotional turning point, Abby finds herself reliving Sam's slow deterioration from the sweet, imaginative, charming best buddy of her grade-school years to the defiant, self-destructive dropout who vanished on the heels of a series of town robberies. She traces his troubles primarily to her father's paranoid, unrelenting ridicule of Sam's ``sissified'' interests--and his jealousy of the boy's attachment to Abby. As familiar as these family dynamics are, the author superbly dramatizes scenes of the father's sarcastic nastiness and the kids' humiliation. The result is chilling and memorable--making the story's mild, unconvincing later developments all the more disappointing. After Sam's disappearance, Abby's father goes berserk and leaves the family; her mother becomes an increasingly devout Catholic; and Abby loses both her religious faith and her interest in a career as a musician. When, at the end, Sam's body is discovered buried in a field near the old family home, answers to all remaining mysteries (how did he die? when and why?) get swallowed up in a sentimental subplot concerning whether or not Abby will baptize the new baby. A gifted writer who needs to pace herself. (Author tour)