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Sister Mine: A Novel Paperback – May 6, 2008
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Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
This novel contains so much--pathos, laugh-out-loud humor, well-drawn compelling characters. My Chaucer professor has remarked that the difference between literature and popular fiction is that literature has cracks in it that are open for the reader to interpret. "Sister Mine" qualifies as literature according to his definition. For example, I have spent some time pondering what took place in the conversation between Clay and Shannon at the end of the book. Clay tells his mother "I realize after talking to Aunt Shannon that there are things about you I don't understand completely...." I have tried to tease out just what Shannon told him. How much of her and Shae-Lynne's childhood did she disclose? Did she confide her suspicions about Clay's own birth? But this ambiguous line, so open to interpretation, is only one of the many gems within Sister Mine.
Wow, this is a difficult novel to review. I've loved O'Dell's other stories, but... I can only give this novel a 3-star rating. This one was somewhat difficult to read and so also difficult to enjoy. I was forced to go back to re-read sections thinking that I might have missed something. Usually I hadn't missed anything!? Huh?! Huh?!
This novel was not just one plot or storyline, but several stories within a story with numerous "main" characters stumbling randomly in and out of the story. And I'm not sure, but I'm thinking that O'Dell writes some of the longest, most intricate, most drawn-out, most overly-complex sentences in the history of mankind. I think there were several sentences that took up one entire page of text or more! Those long sentences were entirely readable, but... But all of the above makes for a most confusing storyline. And yet, for all that, I read the entire story and I can also say that, with some exceptions, I was mostly entertained.
I've read several of O'Dell's novels and really loved them, you might read some of my reviews. But this one....? This one seems to be just "lots-of-strange reading" instead of good or great. While reading this novel, I can't tell you how many times I questioned why the hell I continued, and yet O'Dell's writing skills and talent kept me at it instead of just tossing my Kindle into the trash!
If you want to experience some good/great writing and storytelling, read O'Dell's novel "Fragile Beasts" or perhaps one of her other novels. But unless you're just a glutton for reading confusion,....
Part of that long and sometimes painful history is Shae-Lynn's little sister, Shannon, who disappeared without a trace from their small coal mining town many years before. Shae-Lynn has always suspected that their father, a bitterly unhappy coal miner with a recreational habit of beating up his little girls, finally let his abuse go too far and killed Shannon. That theory has to be revised, though, when long-lost Shannon shows up on Shae-Lynn's doorstep --- nine months pregnant, with no boyfriend or husband in sight.
Shannon isn't entirely alone, though; in her wake comes a rich Connecticut housewife, a suave New York lawyer and a Russian mobster --- all looking for Shannon. What has Shannon been up to? What does she want --- or need --- from Shae-Lynn? Does her arrival mean more trouble for Shae-Lynn? Or will it finally force her to confront some other demons in her past?
Although the candy-colored cover art and pun-filled title, sharp-tongued protagonist and mystery plot might make you think that SISTER MINE is aimed at, say, fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, Tawni O'Dell's novel is far more sophisticated than it appears at first glance. Sure, there are plenty of funny situations --- O'Dell has a knack for writing fast-paced, vivid action scenes and other dramatic or comic interactions --- but Shae-Lynn's observations lend insight, and even wisdom, to the book's portrayals of place and of its many finely-drawn secondary characters.
Foremost among these are the "Jolly Mount Five," a group of five miners who survived a highly-publicized mine explosion several years earlier. These men (and their wives and friends), deeply scarred emotionally and physically, help form a deeper, richer and sadder portrait of the way of life in a coal mining town. They have dealt with the trauma, the fleeting fame and the too-small monetary rewards in various ways, from starting (and mismanaging) a "celebrity restaurant" to drinking away the memory of an amputated limb. Shae-Lynn's taxi-driving job --- not to mention her burgeoning relationship with one of the men --- enables her to reflect on how these five men (now considering suing the mine for damages) represent the town --- and the industry --- in general.
Like her character, Tawni O'Dell left Pennsylvania for a while, only to return to the land of her youth. Her affection for, and at times outrage on behalf of, the landscape and people of this overlooked, underappreciated region shines through everything she writes. Her debut novel, BACK ROADS, was an Oprah's Book Club pick. With its exploration of family, self and place, SISTER MINE deserves much the same audience.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl