Lily Tuck, whose novel The News from Paraguay won the National Book Award in 2004, is one of our finest writers of novels-in-vignettes, and her latest, Sisters (Atlantic Monthly, $20), takes compression to extremes. Its “chapters” are often over in a page, a paragraph, sometimes a sentence, but they’re such vivid shards that you feel like you’re catching all the other pieces in a mosaic without having to see them spelled out. This is the story of a woman reflecting on her shaky marriage, whose trappings—her husband’s children, passions, and memories—all come courtesy of a prior spouse. Tuck centers on her narrator’s relationship with this other woman, who, though living across town, always seems to be in the air. What could turn spiteful in another writer’s hands comes off as gentle and empathetic in Tuck’s, as her lead character seizes on snatches of imagery (“a messy ponytail,” “did not wear rings”), to think through what her ostensible rival’s life must be like. Is it the narrator and not the man who links the two of them who truly understands this woman, she who sees that the bouillabaisse dinner he fondly remembers from France might have made her pregnant body sick? For such a short novel, Sisters is full of these kinds of insights, simply but inimitably framed.
Sisters - Lily Tuck