My Sister Life: The Story of My Sister's Disappearance

Maria Flook, Author
Maria Flook, Author Pantheon Books $25 (368p) ISBN 978-0-679-44208-0
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In 1964 when Flook was 12, her 14-year-old sister, Karen, ran away from their upper-middle-class home in the Wilmington, Del., suburbs, and fell into a life of prostitution and substance abuse. Soon, Flook herself became a drug-, alcohol- and risk-taking delinquent. The dynamics of a privileged family in which two daughters were propelled into self-destruction by maternal malice and paternal weakness are related by novelist Flook (Family Night) in a searing narrative of astonishing candor. Her own existence from that moment was irrevocably tainted, and she lived in the shadow of her sister's flight: ""I thought what had happened to Karen could happen to me. I recognized a mysterious `sister life' unfolding parallel to mine.'' She narrates the events in her own downhill slide with harrowing specificity, alternately segueing to Karen's voice, which supplies details that Flook gathered obliquely through the many years that the sisters were apart. Yet they were bizarrely connected via amazing coincidences in which they endured dangerous accidents, unsavory sexual adventures and other experiences almost simultaneously. While the graphic accounts of their individual debasements are shocking, it is the picture of their beautiful, icy and vindictive mother that will haunt readers. Like the voluptuous wicked stepmother in Snow White, Veronica Mitchell's narcissistic eroticism, and the perverted messages about female sexuality she inflicts on her daughters, makes her the most vivid character in the narrative. Flook renders this unsparing account of sordid behavior in controlled prose that combines tense lyricism with coarse street vernacular. Some readers may find her use of Karen's life exploitative (her sister is reported to have welcomed the book, however), and may wonder at the validity of her assumption of her sister's voice. Yet the overwhelming effect of this brave and edgy work is as a testament to lives reclaimed from mental torment and physical degradation to some measure of healing and redemption. (Jan.)
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