Milly was 16 when Cousin Bettie came to visit, and things were never the same again. This might have been expected, since the whole family ricocheted off one another unpredictably, even before Bettie arrived. Still, the uneasy balance, however temporary, maintained by Milly’s weak father, Joseph, her difficult mother, Margaret, and her obsessively contrary younger sister, Twiss, receives a huge blow when Bettie enters the picture.

Or at least, so it seems on one particular day, when Millie, as an old woman, impulsively shares some existential doubts with visitors who don’t know her. Beginning and ending on that day, The Bird Sisters erratically reviews the lives of the sisters through the last half-century, as they create the world they now live in, for better or worse, where caring for injured birds is preferable to facing the broken shards of their past lives and the relationships that could have been.

On the whole, personalities rather than events control the action here. Milly, who always tries to do the right thing, is torn apart by the conflicting circumstances that being well-meaning creates. Twiss, who is indeed slightly twisted, salts wounds that might have healed in a less afflicted family. And Bettie? She is the troubled spirit who, with Joseph’s assistance, spins the family’s fate out of its dogged course into a future no one really wants.

This is one eccentric family, if eccentricity could ever be defined as a commonly shared characteristic. Sensitively written, and sometimes subliminally amusing, Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel will keep readers’ eyes open well into the night.

 

 

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