Title: The Bird Sisters
Author: Rebecca Rasmussen
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
First line: Used to be when a bird flew into a window, Milly and Twiss got a visit.
Whenever a bird is injured in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Milly and Twiss receive a drop-in visit, calling for their expertise to heal – and sometimes, bury – the bird. They are known as the Bird Sisters, but the folks in Spring Green don’t give much thought to the people behind the nickname, and Milly and Twiss have a story, a story that explains why they ended up living out their lives together, unmarried, and without children. The story goes back to the summer Twiss was 14, when their cousin Bett came to visit from Deadwater and Milly fell in love and their priest lost his faith and their father lost his golf swing.
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Rebecca Rasmussen over the past several months, through blog comments and Twitter conversations, and I love her. She is, to put it simply, a joy. And I looked forward to reading her debut novel with a mixture of equal parts anticipation and dread. Because, to be honest, becoming friends with an author whose book you intend to review can be a sticky business. In the past, I have had to give a less than favorable review to a book by an author with whom I had an online acquaintance, and the negative (though respectful, in my opinion) review brought our relationship to an end. I know enough about Rebecca to know that would not be the case if I didn’t love The Bird Sisters, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings!
I can say with all honesty and relief that The Bird Sisters was a pleasure to read. The book is suffused with a mood of reminiscence, and the writing evokes the hazy days of summer and adolescence. Twiss and Milly are doing their best to survive their parents’ deconstructing marriage. They married for love, a fact that their mother continually mentions cost her the lifestyle she had been accustomed to. Her father had been convinced that his work as a golf pro would give him an “in” with the kind of people he had tried to marry into. The actual result is that his wife and daughters bear the burden of his obsession.
These parents infuriated me. My heart ached for Twiss, who believes that she has to choose which parent to love; for Milly, who chose to meet everyone’s needs except her own. And their cousin, Bett, whose coming lights a match under the powder keg that their parents have been building for years – she was so clearly a product of her environment that I wanted to take her in and tell her she was a person worthy of love.
When it comes down to it, The Bird Sisters is a love story about the love between sisters, a love that can endure anything. I can see Twiss hitting her golf ball, see Milly baking her tractor cake, and I know these are two characters who I will miss. If I was giving my rating based simply on the characters Rebecca created and the way she put the words together, I would give this book 5 stars. It’s a minor quibble, but I had a bit of difficulty with the transitions between the two time periods, and sometimes felt like it took longer than it should for me to know whether we were in the past or the present. Definitely not a reason to miss out on the pleasure of getting to know Milly and Twiss.