When her severely disabled sister becomes pregnant, Nicole Hunter must confront the family issues she fled 10 years earlier.
Hatvany’s latest (Outside the Lines, 2012, etc.) afflicts her heroine with multiple traumas. First, there’s the unnamed condition that since infancy has rendered Nicole’s younger sister Jenny physically helpless and mute—except for the terrible screaming fits that provoked their father to hit her. His violence was Trauma Number Two; Number Three was the post-violence trips to Jenny’s bedroom at night, which led Nicole to believe their father sexually abused her. Trauma Number Four was the decision to institutionalize Jenny, which prompted Nicole to leave home 10 years earlier; she blames her mother for giving in to her father’s pressure, especially since the marriage ultimately failed anyway. Now, as the novel opens, comes Trauma Number Five: Jenny has been raped by a Wellman Institute employee, and her mother (Jenny’s legal guardian) refuses to consider terminating the pregnancy. Mom is racked with guilt about an abortion she had years earlier, but Nicole’s poorly motivated willingness to go along with this is one of the many moments when plot gears can be heard clanking loudly. We know from the get-go that Nicole has never really settled into life in San Francisco and that the gorgeous workaholic lawyer she lives with doesn’t want to have kids. So when she starts thinking about adopting Jenny’s baby and her hometown best friend introduces her to an exemplary single dad whose young daughter makes an instinctive connection with Jenny, a degree in rocket science isn’t required to see where all this is heading. Hatvany has an easy, readable prose style, and her tender portrait of Nicole’s nonverbal bond with Jenny (the eponymous language of sisters) is touching. But her characters are painted in broad strokes, and even the most wrenching questions get feel-good answers.
Readers who prefer fiction that provides much simpler resolutions than life ever does will like Hatvany’s once-over-lightly approach just fine.