Friday, June 8, 2018

Winter Sisters

Title:  Winter Sisters
Author:  Robin Oliveira
Publication Information:  Viking. 2018. 416 pages.
ISBN:  039956425X / 978-0399564253

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Two days before Emma and Claire O'Donnell disappeared, a light snow fell from the dawn sky above Albany, New York, almost as a warning mist."

Favorite Quote:  "Every inch toward courage was a decision. Even ten feet on her own would be a triumph. The line between coercion and choice for her was the line between darkness and light."

It takes me a while to think about the central theme of this book; it reveals itself gradually. The story is of a family and a city. It is about the devastation of a storm and about the lumber industry. It is about the pursuit, destruction, and rediscovery of a dream. It is about marriages and about parents and children. It is about a disappearance and its aftermath. It is about abuse and its aftermath. It is about corruption. It is about a quest for justice. It is about love. It takes a while, but then, I have a definite "a-ha" moment. What draws the entire book together is the women - young and old - and their ability or inability to survive and thrive in a male-dominated world.

The central emotionally intense story is the story of two young girls - the winter sisters - who disappear during a snowstorm in Albany, New York in 1879. The author's note at the end of the book includes an appalling fact. "In 1879, the age of consent in New York sate was ten years old. The NY Statute regarding rape read, in part: 'Every person who shall be convicted of rape either, 1. By carnally and unlawfully knowing any female child under the age of ten years; or, 2. By forcibly ravishing any woman of the age of ten years or upwards...'" Ten years old. Ten years old! The fictional story elaborates that in a victim above the age of ten, "survival is considered an indication of acquiescence." In other words, if the girl fights to the death, rape may be proved. If the girl survives, then she did not fight hard enough and is deemed to have given consent. At the age of ten!

Of the sisters who go missing, Emma is above the age of ten, and Claire is not. I leave you to imagine what comes next. Ten years old. What happens to them has repercussions through the town, bringing to light the darker and evil side of some of its most illustrious residents. The identification of those involved is not really difficult with the small cast of characters in this book. So, I would not term it a mystery, which works because the mystery is not the focus of this book. The fact of the girl's age and the law is. Ten years old.

This book is broader than Emma and Claire's story; this book is about women of different ages and professions all made to suffer by a society in which women do not have the same position or rights as a man. Mary Sutter is a qualified physician but is not given the same respect for her skills as her husband and fellow physician William is. Elizabeth is a gifted violin player whose confidence and dream is shattered by a man telling her she is not good enough. Viola is a woman caught in an abusive marriage with the thought of having no other alternatives. Darlene is a prostitute. The men are more than willing to visit the brothels, but the women there are treated as objects who should in no way come into contact with the rest of society.

Mind you, the book is not unbalanced in the male characters. Obviously, there are the monsters who prey on children and hide behind a cloak of respectability. There are the men who take advantage of their position to bully and abuse those below them. Equally though, the book presents strong men able to stand up for what they believe and stand up for what is right. They embody the image of what relationship ought to be. "Theirs was a tenacious kind of love, as solid and true as granite. Neither of them could think of a time in their life together when either had let the other down."

The plot of the book centers around the sisters and their disappearance, but well developed characters create the bigger themes of rights and equality in a story that draws me in and keeps me reading until the very last page.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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