Friday, July 22

Sister’s Keeper – Randye Lordon

Private investigator Sydney Sloane has mixed feelings about her sister Nora coming home to Manhattan to visit – she loves Nora, but her sister disapproves of Sydney’s orientation, and isn’t too pleased about her profession, either. They put that all to one side, however, to attend an AIDS fundraiser catered by Nora’s lifelong best friend, Zoe Freeman. The evening is a stunning success, but when Zoe fails to meet Sydney, Nora and dashing André Masire at a bar afterward, Sydney decides to call it a night – only to pass the scene where Zoe’s been killed in a hit-run.
Curiously, Zoe was carrying credit cards of a Louise Carson – a woman nobody can find. Sydney senses that something is a little off, and before she knows it she’s embroiled in a complicated puzzle involving a sadistic misogynist, secret identities, off-shore bank accounts, a missing ex-husband/stalker, unrequited love, giant water bugs, bad Argentinian wine, scheming rival caterers, and several more deaths.
Along the way Sydney realises that she might be in love with her current partner, Leslie; becomes reacquainted with the only man who’s seriously tempted her (former co-cadet, now detective, Brian); and, with the aid of her aunt Minnie, brokers a relationship between Nora and Leslie. She also, somehow, commits to going camping.
Published in 1994 and the second in a series, Sister’s Keeper has only slightly dated – I don’t know how much AIDS fundraising there is in this post-antiretroviral world, but people still die of HIV/AIDS, and there’s still a disturbing amount of homophobic discomfort. What has changed since Sister’s Keeper was released: Italy is part of the European Union, so there’s no Italian currency; the dart board in Sydney’s partner Max’s office includes photos of Idi Amin, George Bush senior, Nancy Reagan, Newt Geingrich, and the very then-topical but now defunct Mike Milken and David Duke; and there’s a little technology lag – not only no internet and mobile/cell phones, but even cordless phones are a novelty. These are small elements, and had I not been looking for them I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. More significantly, though, a substantial plot element involving a very good false identity (complete with passport) would attract significant official attention now, but is of only passing interest to anyone but Sydney and Max. In our post-9/11 world, and particularly as I write this review sitting in a lounge at LAX, the idea of police being blasé about false documents is strikingly discordant, and telling about how much the world has changed in little over a decade.
These are most certainly not weaknesses, particularly in a novel that has managed to retain most of its original narrative power. There are a few flaws in the plot, most significantly, the question of how the unconnected Zoe managed to directly contact a master forger. I also found it just a little hard to swallow that not one but two characters with pivotal information are murdered in front of Sydney, just as they’re about to reveal vital information.
These few quibbles aside, however, Sister’s Keeper is as strong and compelling as I remember from my first reading, the better part of two decades ago. The characters are well crafted and distinct, particularly Sydney. There’s a little sex, conveyed very much in the Greenwood vein of just enough information to give the reader a sense of what’s happening without any detail (a pleasant contrast to contemporary romances, though I grant you this is a different genre as well as a different era). The plot certainly has its occasional creative leaps, but all in all it was a pleasant rediscovery. And it’s not relevant, but I also liked that one of the two books Sydney has on the go (one for public consumption, the other for home) is by a favourite author overdue for a reread and review, Sandra Scoppottone’s Donnato and Daughter. As I said, nothing germane but nice for me.
Sister’s Keeper is the second in a perhaps five book series – though I read Brotherly Love I can’t find it in my great wall of book-filled boxes, but the background is woven skilfully enough through this instalment that it’s not a requirement. I do have the next two sitting at home, accessible, and may well pick one up in the next wee while. - Alex

Saturday, July 2

Anonymums – anonymous

Subtitled Three women, the truth and a whole lot of dares, Anonymums is an account of three Australian women (Mums A, B and C) – Mum A had met one of them several times at an annual writers’ festival, and the other online. In both cases the women clicked, and she suspected that they, like her, might be diminished by their lives as suburban wives and mothers. “Most days I felt like a zombie – a mindless, animated slave to two needy, demanding kids...” The final straw came when Mum A realised she had a cleaning sponge preference. And thus was born the project – for three months each Mum would get a dare from one of her friends and have to respond truthfully to a question from the other, with twist that the last months’ truth and dare had to be self-set.
There were guidelines – no skydiving, no affairs, nothing that could wind up on Jackass, no salsa – and the dares seemed relatively mild. In December Mum A had to go to a shopping centre, line up, sit on Santa’s knee, ask him for a steam mop and buy a photo for posterity, Mum B had to wear siren-red lipstick for a week, and Mum C had to have a Brazilian wax.
The truths were a little more challenging – tell me about the worst mother you know, tell me your most used sexual fantasy, tell the truth about how you sometimes wish you’d never have children. And in all cases the women found themselves changing, expanding, and challenging aspects of lives that had been mundane.
Anonymums is a recognition of the unrelenting monotony of motherhood, the inequality of parenthood, the frustration and resentment of the stay at home parent, and a realisation that this doesn’t have to be the case – I found Mum A’s self-imposed Big Dare, to change the running of the house and reduce the resentment she felt toward her husband, possibly the most interesting.
I also found her response to the question “tell me about the worst mother you know” fascinating, because of the way it challenged her to look at the truth of this woman’s life rather than her (admittedly distressing) behaviour born of compromise.
I also liked Mum B’s observation, on day 3 of a week-long dare to abstain from both chocolate and alcohol,
I have a headache. Could it be withdrawal? And if so, from what?
More likely it’s from hearing all about episode 24 of Ben 10. What happened to the Wiggles? That’s what I’d like to know. Then, we knew where we were: a bit of Hot Potato, a rock or two of the bear, point your fingers, do the twist and jump in the Big Red Car. But now, I’ve got ‘diamond-head guy’ and 'four-arm guy’ and eight other guys to deal with. If Big Boy actually knew anything about this cartoon I wouldn’t mind so much – but he’s never even seen the actual show. Won’t let him watch it because I think he’s too young.
Instead, I was watching firsthand the power of word-of-mouth advertising. Kids, it turns out, are naturals at it. Some kid came to pre-school with an enormous plastic omitrix-watch-thingy, and voila! The Game Has Changed.
I’m not a mother, though most of my friends are, and I have in my life children ranging in age from infants through to Lynn’s teens. I also remember the experience of co-parenting my younger siblings. I believe the hype about parental love being transformative and encompassing and amazing, but I also know it’s exhausting, unrelenting, consuming, never-ending and unrecognised. Anonymums redresses this somewhat, and I like the ending, where they are not only reinvigorated by vow to continue challenging themselves and each other.
I don’t need to re-read it, though, and have left it at the airport, hopefully to be picked up and perused by a mum in need of a reminder of her own identity outside the mum label. – Alex