Marcy Dermansky’s debut novel made my reading list because she went to grad school at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers with my ex-wife. So, I kinda-sorta knew her. Aside from her being around when I’d drive down to visit, we did spend a week with her and her erstwhile husband, writer and co-USM alum, Jürgen Fauth, after they’d moved to Queens. I’d heard her debut novel was full of references to people I’d met and places I’d been in Hattiesburg, and I was curious to know if I’d recognize anyone or anything.
I obviously wasn’t in a hurry to get to it: released in 2005, it sat in my to-read list for nearly a decade. Only a few books had sat there longer (the oldest, “Winesburg, Ohio” was my second book of the year). I finally got to it for three reasons. First, I was getting all my books from the library this year. Second, I was starting with the oldest ones. Third, our new town’s library system is unbelievable and they had a copy of what I would have considered a relatively obscure book.
Written in alternating first-person perspectives, “Twins” follows identical twin sisters, Chloe and Sue, through what can euphemistically be described as a difficult adolescence. One is, of course, the good sister, and, naturally, the other is the bad one. It’s a convenient, if too easy, setup, and while there are some shades of gray to the dichotomy, their dynamic is driven by this framework. The push-and-pull lies with the fact that one sister wants her own identity independent of her twin, and the other sister wants no one else in their world. Their journey to find peace with themselves, and each other, is a circuitous one, and is sometimes filled with hard-to-believe drama, sometimes with cruelty, sometimes with laugh-out-loud humor, sometimes with tenderness and poignancy. If there’s a weakness here it’s that, for me at least, the back-and-forth structure got a bit tedious after 300 pages.
Marcy is clearly a talented writer, with a keen eye for story, character, and pacing, and I can only imagine her subsequent novels are better still. “Twins” isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s a quick — and, on the whole, fun — read. Though I’m not sure what fiction subgenre it falls into, I’d wager it’s one of the better examples of it.
As for all the references to people and places I’d hope to find, aside from a concrete detail or two, and a vague notion that some character or other might have been based on someone I met once or twice, I came up pretty empty. The phrase “Time’s a bitch,” comes to mind, but I don’t know if that’s a real phrase or if I just made it up. In any case, I guess we remember what’s important and forget what isn’t, and I guess nothing was important enough from those days to remember. Just as well, I suppose, because there’s plenty from those days I’d hoped to forget. It looks like good things do come to those who wait.
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