I read Sisters in the span of a few hours. I’m not sure that was the best way to have read it, however. I may have processed more, I may have been less overtaken by surprise, if I’d spent a few days over it. But it’s not very long (207 pages), and it’s absorbing and puzzling in equal measure.
Johnson’s writing pulled me along, as older sister September has been pulling July (younger by just eleven months) around for years:
Come on, September says . . . There are too-big wellies at the back door that we push our feet into. September is turning out the front of the house, arms akimbo, chin tipped back toward a sky that is almost steely blue . . .
September is marching down the lane, her calves lifting out of the too-big boots. I rush to catch up and we walk for a few paces in step, our arms next to each other’s.
Look, September says, and points. The horizon jiggles with the hills, but there, in the distance, is a line of sea. It is the end of May and the sun is warm on our heads, the smell of hot earth. At times I feel resistance within me, like finding, blind, the beginning of a drop with your toes. I try and add weight in my hands but she pulls me onward.
Almost sounds like an excerpt from Pippi Longstocking, doesn’t it? Sisters is about sisters, but they’re not happy-go-lucky or run-of-the-mill siblings. It’s also about families, and the pain that can drip from one generation to the next. It’s about cruelty that looks like love, and mental illness that masquerades as coping. And about grief, which is “a house with no windows or doors and no way of telling the time.”
To say more would be to say too much. My advice is to read it.