Canadian den Hartog follows a twin back to her ruptured childhood in 1980s Ontario, where she suffered the tragic loss of her sister.
Eugenie and Jane, who grow up with their frustrated artist-mother Lucy and their angry father in Ontario, are perfect complements of each other: one daring and always laughing, the other cautious and circumspect. Yet by the time the twins are ten, carefree Eugenie has vanished from serious Jane’s life and Jane chaffs to distance herself from the unsettling dynamics of her parents’ rocky marriage. Years later, when Jane is living with her boyfriend, Simon, and writing illustrated fables, she receives a call that Lucy is dying. A poignant, dreamlike account (addressed in the second-person to Eugenia) chronicles her journey back home to make peace with her early years. Interspersed with magical memories of dressing up as Siamese twins for Halloween and visiting their mother in Toronto, where she moved out temporarily to seek a life as an artist, the author offers oddly intrusive fairy tales in discrete chapters, titled after the names of fictional children like “Ildikoh” or “Pirouette,” which become allegories inspired by tales the twins’ mother told them as children. Lucy and her husband are locked in a passion that excludes the young girls, provoking the terrible accident that takes Eugenie’s life. Den Hartog spins her tale with a deft hand, coyly dropping foreshadowings of Eugenie’s death and hints of a lethal darkness lying within their father. Jane’s own extreme circumspection has kept her from telling the truth about her past to her lover, who in turn claims to be her Platonic other half. The tale does gain strength through affecting details, though the parents’ blithe resolution (especially when coming after the senseless death of their daughter) feels abrupt and unconvincing, and the reader is never treated to the family reunion on Lucy’s deathbed.
A story of quiet beauty that doesn’t require the contrived insertion of fairy tales to enchant. (Later this year MacAdam/Cage will publish den Hartog’s debut novel, Water Wings, which has already appeared in Canada.)