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Monday, July 11, 2016

Three Books About Siblings

Reprinted from the Citizen:

While summer is often time to read a light summer romance, this season seems to be a time for books about siblings. For those of us lucky enough to have siblings, we will be able to relate to the complicated, caring relationships the siblings in the following three books.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Eligible” is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice”. The names are the same, but the setting is different; this Bennet family- mother, father and five sisters- resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

After Mr. Bennet has a heart attack, oldest sisters Jane (a yoga instructor) and Liz (who writes for a fashion lifestyle magazine) leave New York City to help out at home. Mrs. Bennet is chairing a very important fundraiser and can’t care for her husband on her own.

Apparently neither can the three adult sisters who still live at home: Mary, who is working on her third online post-graduate degree, and Lydia and Kitty, who spend all their time at the Cross Fit studio. Liz comes home to find that the house is in disrepair and since her parents don’t have health insurance, Mr. Bennet’s medical bills necessitate the sale of the family home.

Liz is the one who has to figure all of this out, and things get complicated when she meets Dr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, a newly ensconced surgeon at the local hospital. He is openly hostile to Liz, but as we all know, that means he has feelings for her.

“Eligible” is a love story, but for me, the family relationships, especially the sibling relationships, are the more interesting elements of the story. Mr. Bennet, whose dry wit made me laugh out loud, and Mrs. Bennet, who exasperates over her daughters’ lack of suitable suitors, seem to be waiting for Liz to take care of everything, even while resenting her efforts. And Liz has to kick a little sibling behind to get the Bennets’ house in order.

It is funny, charming and sweet, and if you like the TV show “The Bachelor” you will enjoy how that show plays into this modern storyline. 

Emily Giffin is known for her women’s fiction, but her latest novel, “First Comes Love” is about a sibling relationship. Adult sisters Josie, a single preschool teacher, and Meredith, a married corporate lawyer with a young daughter, have a close, but at times strained, relationship. 

When they were in college, their beloved brother Daniel was killed in a tragic car accident and it devastated the family. Their father had a drinking problem and their parents divorced. His death affects them all still to this day.

Josie envies her sister’s happy marriage to Daniel’s best friend Nolan, and their beautiful little girl. When Josie’s former boyfriend’s young daughter ends up as a student in her first grade class, Josie begins to question whether she will ever have a happy marriage and children like Meredith.

Since a husband isn’t on the horizon but her 40th birthday is, Josie decides to have a baby on her own. Meredith thinks this is a selfish decision, and she begins to question her own choices, especially quitting acting to become a lawyer and marrying Nolan.

“First Comes Love” deals with some serious issues- giving up a lifelong dream, how loss affects people in different ways, how secrets can destroy a relationship- through the prism of the sibling relationship between Josie and Meredith. Giffin does a wonderful job with a more serious subject matter and her fans will be pleased with this effort.

Ann Leary’s “The Children” is set in Connecticut. When Whit Whitman dies, he leaves behind his second wife Joan, her two adult daughters Sally and Charlotte, and two adult sons from his first marriage, Spin and Perry. 

He leaves his family’s long-held estate to his sons, with the provision that Joan be allowed to live there until her death. Charlotte is reclusive, rarely leaving the home. She is also a famous “Mommy Blogger”, which is odd because she has no children.

Her blog makes very good money, and no one has yet figured out that her husband and children are figments of her imagination, and she feels she isn’t hurting anyone. She believes she provides entertainment for mothers who read her blog.

When Spin brings his new fiancee Lauren home, something about her makes Charlotte and Sally suspicious of her motives. Again, the relationships among the siblings are the strongest parts in this terrific novel that draws us into the world of the Whitmans.

“Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld- A
Published by Random House
Hardcover, $28, 500 pages

“First Comes Love” by Emily Giffin- B+
Published by Penguin Random House
Hardcover, $28, 400 pages

“The Children” by Ann Leary- A-
Published by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, $26.99, 246 pages