SISTER by Jim Lewis


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 A John Fowles-like account of a young vagabond who lives secretly in the basement of a rich man's mansion and becomes involved with the man's two daughters. First-novelist Lewis's prose is serviceably lyrical at best, using voyeurism to illuminate dark corners, though it occasionally slides into pretentiousness. Wilson, at 17, leaves his home in Lincoln, Nebraska (``a small, quiet city under a huge blue sky''), to go ``for a walk into the world.'' The story, written in the guise of Wilson's confessions, is at first a picaresque road-saga about an adolescent rather taken with his own image as ``a singular creature, a mooncalf, a monster if you will, equally knocked about and knocking.'' He meets bums, dreams dreams, and eventually becomes a gardener, ``tying saplings to stakes,'' at a wealthy man's mansion that's also inhabited by an unhappy mother and her daughters, Olivia and Marian. Since his own mother left him ``occult powers,'' Wilson soon enough gives up gardening to live in the basement and prowl around, eavesdropping (``I was everywhere in that house, an extra, an unforeseen member of the family''). He becomes Olivia's lover and, once she's pregnant, decides that they're as good as married. But the baby is stillborn, and Olivia leaves for parts unknown. Wilson (``in the soft sentences of my undying memory'') finishes the saga: he takes up with Marian, leafs through Olivia's diary, and then witnesses the complete breakup of the family when the mother leaves the rigid father, something she admits she should have done a long time ago. Wilson's fantasies evaporate: ``...the world I wished for has become extinct.'' Though we sometimes see through the voice, Lewis manages to limn an original world where the usual family unhappiness is described through the obsessive mind of a quirky, aptly chosen narrator.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-55597-178-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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