cover image FANNY AND SUE


Karen Stolz, . . Hyperion, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-6701-1

"Kiss, kiss, kiss, it was a new year, with new hopes and dreams and fudge too," chirps one of the child narrators of Stolz's second novel (after World of Pies), an affectionate portrait of Depression-era Midwestern life marred by sticky-sweet sentimentality. Identical twin sisters, for whom the novel is named, take turns narrating chapters that span their school years in St. Louis with their warm, spirited parents and little brother, Baby Bob. Their world is full of hobos, streetcars, soda fountains and the terror of polio, but there isn't much depth behind these well-drawn set pieces. The major events of the novel—Fanny burns her arm on the stove; their mother miscarries; the girls assume each other's identities in pursuit of the same boy; Sue's boyfriend moves to Chicago; their uncle loses his job and his home—are generally resolved within a chapter or two, and there are few lasting repercussions or character transformations. The relentlessly cheerful tone makes Sue's recovery from scarlet fever seem no more significant than Fanny's victory at a roller-skating marathon. Stolz's effort to render the inner world of children and teenagers relies primarily on using limited vocabulary and scores of exclamation points to express constant enthusiasm. While the prose style does evoke a child's voice ("I couldn't stop crying. Rosalyn died.... Why would this happen? I did not want to know something like this could happen.... It was hard for me to understand why children would ever die"), it allows for few psychological insights. Die-hard nostalgics may get a kick out of this syrupy frolic, but those looking for emotional range should steer clear. (Mar.)