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December 30, 2008

The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele

I decided to read The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele, because Katrina Onstad blurbed it, and I trust Katrina Onstad. Onstad’s own novel How Happy to Be was one of the smartest and funniest novels that I read last year, the best of what “women’s fiction” is aspiring to be when it’s not busy pandering to outright stupidity (though I’d also argue that Onstad’s novel has broader appeal). And unsurprisingly– for when is Katrina Onstad ever wrong?– The Almost Archer Sisters didn’t disappoint me.

Told by Georgia “Peachy” Archer Laliberte, a frazzled wife and mother, who seeks solace in imaginary adultery and scouring the internet for information about her son’s epilepsy. She lived in the same house she grew up in, gave up her own professional dreams when she got pregnant at twenty, and in short did everything differently than her glamorous sister Beth did.

Not completely differently, however. Peachy’s husband’s is Beth’s high school boyfriend, and he’d gotten her pregnant too once upon a time. (“Jesus. That man’s sperm could reforest the goddamn tundra… It could be cure baldness. He should be caged and studied.”) But Beth had made a very different choice, unabashedly getting an abortion and continuing in the direction of her dreams, which culminate in a successful career in television and a high-flying life in New York City.

The story turns on a plot that is somewhat melodramatic, Peachy discovering her husband in the pantry with Beth in a most compromising position. It is what Gabriele does with this, however, that gives the book its substance. In her rage and devastation, Peachy leaves her family behind and makes her own way to New York for a few days in her sister’s life. A premise that sounds more cliched than it actually is– this ain’t no Freaky Friday, I mean, but that Peachy follows through with a weekend trip that had already been planned, stays at Beth’s apartment, meets her friends, and discovers there is quite a lot she never knew about her sister and about herself.

Dark in turns, told in a wry tone throughout, Gabriele’s narrative voice inhabits Peachy’s character so completely– in particular, her fierce love for her sons. This most significant considering that Gabriele doesn’t have children of her own, as she states in the reader’s discussion guide at the end of the book. That such authentic and unwavering fierceness could be imagined is a testament to Gabriele’s skills as a writer, which seems too obvious, I realize, but isn’t when you consider how much of women’s fiction is compromised by writers who can’t imagine out of themselves enough. Because it is through imagination, and not necessarily personal experience that stories take flight, and this is surely why this one has wings.

One thought on “The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele”

  1. sherry lee says:

    I enjoyed it. Just finished it last night. Took me a while to get into it though and I was hovering on the decision of proceed or stop…glad I decided to proceed.

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