cover image The Secret Sisters

The Secret Sisters

Joni Rodgers, . . HarperCollins, $23.95 (358pp) ISBN 978-0-06-083138-7

Rodgers's somber novel (following her memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair ), weaves a tapestry of three Houston women's lives, each touched by bereavement. Pia, a high-powered career woman and mother of grown twin sons, unravels after the unexpected death of her husband, Edgar, on the night of December 31, 2000. Though she remarries a few years later, she suffers debilitating agoraphobia and severs herself from human connection except for the occasional phone call to her incarcerated sister, Lily. Serving a seven-year sentence for the manslaughter of her five-year-old niece, Easter, in a drunk driving accident, Lily struggles to accept responsibility for the child's death. Rodgers crafts Lily's stark, stripped-down narrative from journal entries, transcriptions of her phone conversations and quotes from the books she reads in the prison library. Beth, Easter's grieving mother and a less fully realized character than her sisters-in-law Lily and Pia, renders her world in equally bleak terms—"good days" or "not good days," a conceit that tires quickly. Rodgers is at her best when she choreographs an intersection of the three narratives, as when Beth finds Pia bloodied in her bathtub from a suicide attempt. It is in these interstices that the story delivers and "the secret sisters" attempt to resurrect their lives. (Feb.)