"The Sisters" (St. Martin's Press), by Nancy Jensen: In her debut novel, "The Sisters," Nancy Jensen essentially applies to a family the concept of "the butterfly effect," the idea that a small action can eventually lead to significant impacts some other place, some other time.
In the case of sisters Bertie and Mabel, a decision made with good intentions but badly misunderstood leads to a separation and choices that put each woman on dramatically different courses. The book then follows not only Bertie and Mabel, but also the girls and women of the two generations who come after them.
The seed for the story was planted when Jensen was a child and learned of the death of her grandmother's sister, a woman that her grandmother had long kept a secret. Jensen herself was never able to figure out why her grandmother had for so long refused to acknowledge her sibling.
And even though the novel — an enjoyable, easy read — early on allows the reader the privilege of knowing most of the reason why Bertie and Mabel are torn apart, it still has some surprises in the end.
Jensen teaches English at Eastern Kentucky University and has won awards for her short stories.
In "The Sisters," she devotes special attention to individual characters' emotional states. She also is careful to put each generation firmly in its own historical context, whether it be the Great Depression or the Vietnam War.
But sometimes the reader may want to scream, "Why don't these people just TALK to each other?"
There's also another nagging question: How can we really be sure that the children or grandchildren would have been any better or any worse off had Bertie and Mabel not been separated?
The most compelling characters, thus, are the sisters themselves. Their experiences, dreams and regrets give the novel heft and drive the central mystery of the book: Will they ever find each other again?
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