This debut novel by Marcy Dermansky is a surprising, unusual story that spans across the formative teenage years of twin sisters Chloe and Sue. The story is narrated in alternating voices, switching between perspectives by chapter. It begins from the perspective of Sue, who is four minutes younger, and who coerces her sister into getting tattoos for their thirteenth birthday to serve as permanent symbols of devotion. With this raw opening chapter, readers are then thrust into the emotionally strained, private world of the twins.
As they mature, the girls struggle to accept themselves as individuals and as part of an identical pair linked by more than just DNA. Sue struggles to find her place in the family and at school while always feeling like the screwed up, angrier version of her sister who everyone expects to be perfect. Chloe struggles to figure out who she really is under the angry, watchful eye of her sister who cries and acts out if Chloe attempts to have a life outside of sisterhood. Sue’s severe insecurity results in obsessive, uncontrolled behavior that limits both girl’s physical and emotional development.
With wealthy, inattentive parents who work long hours and selfishly neglect the importance of parenting; and a seemingly spiteful older brother, the girls learn difficult life lessons on their own, and take readers through years of both failures and successes as they attempt to raise themselves, and find loving, meaningful relationships.
The novel serves as an alarming look at the soft, vulnerable underbelly of suburban misery, where the view from the outside may appear serene: the perfect three-story home, a backyard pool, a dog, and beautiful children.
What goes on inside both the home and the minds of the characters though is truly disturbing in an alarmingly believable way. Dermansky’s true talent lies in her ability to fully develop strong and varied voices for each of her characters. Both Chloe and Sue change and develop in amazing and heartbreaking ways over the years presented in the novel, and Dermansky captures their separate viewpoints with striking poignancy.
Additionally, the novel offers an array of other characters that influence the girls’ lives, each with a strong, consistent voice and a memorable persona. From Lisa, the first friend either twin has, to Rodney Markman and Smita, who separately serve as unlikely but wonderful parental figures, each character is unique and indispensable, providing depth and enrichment to the story.
Twins is a necessary commentary on hidden sectors of contemporary society, and provides a powerful lesson about the importance of family and human relationships in shaping who we become.
A fantastic, must read novel.