I See You Everywhere [Buy Now]

By Julia Glass

Random House, 304 pages, $25

Having read my share of “sister novels,” I nearly turned down Julia Glass’ I See You Everywhere, “an intimate work of fiction about the intertwined lives of two sisters.”

Being a sister myself, I can always relate to stories about this special bond, but I had to roll my eyes a little when I read the synopsis.

Good thing I also glanced at the list of Glass’ literary achievements (National Book Award for Fiction, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.), which convinced me to at least read the first chapter.

That’s all it took to pull me into the vivid world of Louisa and Clem Jardine.

The novel begins, and ends, from the perspective of Louisa, the eldest. From an upper crust Rhode Island family, Louisa is predictably predictable, responsible, and cautious. It’s 1980 and she’s made the uncharacteristic mistake of following a man out to California, where she is promptly dumped. In the wake of a dowager aunt’s death, Louisa flies to Vermont to claim a beloved piece of jewelry and spend some awkward time with her younger sister, Clem.

Clem is, of course, the wild child. She’s spent the last few months living with Aunt Lucy, bringing a little spice to the old woman’s last days on Earth. Clem is the favorite, a little rebellious, popular with men, and a one-time boyfriend stealer (though she professes ignorance). Her animal biologist career begins with volunteering at a clinic for injured raptors.

Each chapter switches between the sisters’ very different perspectives, progressing slowly over 25 years. Their unique personalities are often strikingly at odds, but they also share similarities that even they are unaware of — their jealousies, ambitions, and their frequent thoughts of one another.

Subject to both perspectives, we see that their regular misunderstandings are sometimes painfully trivial. What ensues is a vivid portrait of both characters as well as their intensely complex relationship.

Clem continues living a transient lifestyle, moving around the world, healing everything from seals to grizzlies, and falling in love with a stream of tall, rugged men. Louisa gets stuck in an unfulfilling marriage, affair, divorce, then battles cancer. She finds satisfaction in her career as an arts editor in New York City. The sisters keep in touch with occasional letters and phone calls.

I didn’t realize how much the book had drawn me in until tragedy struck one of the characters. I walked around in a bit of a daze for the rest of the day.

But rather than define the book, as it so easily could, this event just adds to the study of these women’s complex relationship. I’m glad the back cover did not allude to this event — another reason I wouldn’t have even opened the book — and that’s why I’ll say no more about it.

Will men or non-sisters enjoy this book as much as I did? Will they find as much amusement, or cry as hard as I did?

I can’t say for sure, but there’s no denying Glass’ skill in creating characters and storylines that we can really invest in.

And all readers should walk away with a renewed dedication to openly communicating with those they love most. Hopefully sisters and non-sisters alike will not write off this beautiful spin on an oft-covered theme.