Lansens (Rush Home Road, 2002) overcomes the inherent “ick” factor in this surprisingly moving story of conjoined twins in a small Canadian community.
Ruby and Rose Darlen are joined side by side at the head. Rose, who tells most of the story, was born with a normal body but with her face pulled out of shape. Ruby’s face is lovely, but because her legs never fully formed, Rose must carry her. The twins have separate brains, separate personalities and interests. They even have separate jobs at the local library. As the novel opens, they are approaching their 30th birthday. Rose, who loves literature but passed up college because Ruby would not attend, has decided to write her own autobiography, offering to let Ruby compose her own chapters. Rose tells the dramatic story of their birth on the day a tornado touched down, of their mother who immediately abandoned them and of the saintly but colorful local nurse Lovey and her dashing but kindly husband Stash who adopted them. Although Rose often describes Ruby as a stereotypical “shallow pretty sister” (except most such sisters are not conjoined with misshapen bodies or heads), we gradually learn that Ruby is more than a pretty face and has in fact gathered a museum-quality collection of Indian artifacts. Rose leaves it to Ruby to mention the crucial fact that the sisters are dying from a brain tumor. Rose also has difficulty discussing the baby she conceived with a local boy who kissed Ruby’s lips while impregnating Rose’s body. Having given the baby up for adoption, Rose now yearns to find her. That bit of melodrama aside, the novel’s power lies in the wonderful narrative voices of Rose and Ruby. Lansens has created a richly nuanced, totally believable sibling relationship between two small-town girls in a community filled with lively haracters.
An unsentimental, heartwarming page-turner. Quite an achievement.