08 April 2010

Day 12: The Story Sisters

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman.  ISBN: 9780307393869.

I believe this is the first novel I've read by Alice Hoffman, although I've been tempted to read some of her young adult literature.  I was surprised to find a lot of myself in this novel.  I was expecting more of a fairytale existence for the Story family and what I got was a brutal reminder of how hard my teenage years were.  The characters were so real in this that I had trouble figuring out which one I related to the most, so I'll say that I related to them all, but especially Meg, who retreated into her books as her home life became more difficult.

Elv, the eldest daughter, creates her own world, complete with its own language.  She and Claire, the youngest, have a special bond because Elv saved her from a predatory teacher.  Elv eventually begins to use drugs, stay out at all hours of the night, and be promiscuous, all while remaining half in her made up world.  I cannot tell you how close the events in this book came to my real life story, especially the middle part of the book, but I will try without revealing too many family secrets or too many spoilers.

Like Elv, when my brother hit a certain age he started to live in his own world, not quite as detailed as Arnish, and he completely withdrew from the family and became a stranger.  By the time we was fourteen he was sneaking out at night, my mother couldn't keep him in the house and didn't even know how to try, he came home high or drunk and skipped school.  I played the roll of Meg in my household, trying to avoid confrontation with my brother whenever possible, who was more often cruel than not.  My mother tried to do everything, but she couldn't make him go to therapy, she couldn't make him go to school, and she couldn't make him stay home at night.

One night when he was god-knows-where, I found his drug paraphenalia in the bathroom closet and I showed my mother.  It was not the first time I told her I couldn't live with my brother anymore, that he would ruin both of us if he stayed, but it was the first time my mother listened.  That night my mother made plans with her boyfriend to drive my brother to my dad's house in Oklahoma and drop him off.  My brother came home late that night and was too stoned or tired to protest.  I can't imagine what that drive must have been like for my mother, and I'm amazed that my brother didn't try to run away.

My brother, like Elv, eventually improved, and through oddly similar means.  Those years of quiet were much needed to see me through to my full potential.  I was able to make friends without the stigma of being my brother's "uncool" sister.  I had my friends and I had my enemies, and there were no other connections.  It took a long time for me to reconnect to my brother, as it did for Elv and Claire, and some of the losses we both faced in the meantime were devastating, but now we share the joy of watching his son grow up.  And I no longer have to fear his demons.

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