Epistolary novel about endearing and indecent siblings.
Twins Matilda, an artist who is making ends meet as a wedding photographer, and Harry, a writer and professor, have a candid and close relationship. Matilda is bold, spiritual, and self-centered while Harry is stoic, smart, and sarcastic; both are creative and funny. Communicating via email, they share most every aspect of their lives with one another: from the details of their romantic relationships to anxieties about work (Harry is desperate for the stability of tenure) and health (Matilda is sure she's destined for a horrible disease). At first the pair seem like ordinary, if tightknit, siblings. But during the course of the novel (which takes place over a year, from September to September) it becomes clear that they are not always scrupulous. Harry falls in love with one of his students, a move morally ambiguous in itself, and makes matters worse by claiming one of her poems is his when submitting it for publication in the New Yorker. The subsequent acclaim gives him the career security he has been longing for, but at what cost? Matilda makes her own dubious choice, building an entire relationship with her boyfriend on the foundation of a lie: that her twin brother is dead. These are just two moments in what turns out to be a lifelong series of ethically questionable behaviors. Yet despite their misdeeds, despite the final, shocking truths of their relationship, Harry and Matilda remain sympathetic characters—perhaps because of what the reader comes to know about the many failings of their parents or perhaps because of the twins’ friendship, their badinage and bond. This is the first novel from Hulin, whose previous book, Flying Henry (2013), is a children’s fantasy-photography book. Her writing excels in its ability to make the twins appealing. The email-exchange format leaves the reader feeling closely connected to the characters while Hulin’s humorous and intimate prose redeems them.
A novel as remarkably witty as it is frightful.