cover image The Sisters Antipodes: A Memoir

The Sisters Antipodes: A Memoir

Jane Alison, . . Houghton Mifflin, $23 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101280-0

In this enormously compelling memoir, novelist Alison (Natives and Exotics ) recounts the strangely definitive reconfiguration of her family when her parents broke up and switched partners and children with another couple they met in Australia. In 1965, when Alison was four and her sister seven, they were living in Canberra, where her father was an Australian diplomat. The family met an American diplomat and his family with two daughters of similar ages—the youngest, Jenny, even shared the same birthday as Alison. The couples were fascinated with each other, and soon the marriages realigned: Alison and her sister moved in with their mother, Rosemary, an Australian teacher, and Paul, the American diplomat, who moved them back to the U.S.; Alison's father, Edward, now married to Helen, became stepfather to her two daughters in Australia. During the seven years of Paul and Rosemary's tenuous marriage, Alison, a plucky, boyish, observant child, set out to win Paul's admiration by her accomplishments, and when she finally saw her biological father again in 1973, it became clear that Alison and her antipodal sister, Jenny, were each harboring the “mass of fantasy, jealousy, and longing that was crucial and would define us.” Alison masterfully delineates the treacherous forms this jealousy would take, especially amid the sexual self-abnegation of adolescence, in a truly unusual, harrowing journey of identity. (Mar.)