The Bird Sisters. An intriguing name for Rebecca Rasmussen's critically acclaimed and much-beloved debut novel. What does it mean? Who are these sisters? Creating a beautiful metaphor for her two lead characters, Milly and Twiss, Rasmussen unveils a portrait of unconditional love. On the surface, these two elderly women are known in their small Wisconsin town as the healers of injured birds. But on a deeper level, as the summer of 1947 is revealed via flashback, an understanding and appreciation of their utter resiliency becomes apparent. They each carry their own internal wounds and scars, and the only balm they find is in each other. The other's presence is the sole elixir that alleviates the pain and loneliness of their quiet, isolated existence. They are kindred spirits to the nth degree - two halves of the same tortured soul.
Of course, their present condition is the end result of their parents' actions. A beautiful, but frustrated, mother. A jaded, cyncial father. A crumbling, distant marriage. Things weren't always like this, but in 1947 when their father gets into an accident and loses his job, despair takes hold of the entire family and never lets go.
Milly is a shy, yet natural, beauty. She begins to attract the attention of Asa, the son of a neighboring farmer. She is a quiet, gentle soul full of grace and dignity. Twiss, on the other hand, is a helter skelter tomboy roaring with energy and mischief. She bases her life around honesty and says what's on her mind. She expects people to be straight with her, and demands the truth, no matter how hurtful it may be, when they are not. Ultimately, Twiss yearns to get out and see the world, while Milly wants a family she can devote her entire life to.
Rasmussen has a deft touch for creating a pitch-perfect setting for the novel. You can feel the sun on your face as the girls float arms outstretched in the local swimming hole. You can smell the freshly cut grass behind the wheels of Asa's lawn tractor. You can see the light on in the barn where their father keeps his solitary vigil. You can hear the lure of the carnival barkers at the country fair. You can taste the sugary icing on Twiss' cake. The imagery is pure, down home comfort.
But it is not enough to keep the family in tact. Through an act of betrayal, it is up to the self-sacrifice of the sisters to set right a grievous wrong. They are both denied the lives they have dreamed about. Instead, they are left to pick up the pieces and band together under their shared sense of solidarity and loss. They gave up everything for the sake of preserving the dignity of others. They made the hard choice, and accepted the consequences of what came with it. All that remains for them, is the love that they have for each other. And even if it is not enough, it is what ultimately sustains them even as they enter their final years.
Overall, sometimes you don't get what you want, you get what you need.
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen is available for $24.00 at Amazon.com and at TheBirdSisters.com.
Rebecca is a frequent Tweeter. Follow her @thebirdsisters.
Thank you to Bermudaonion for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.
Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.