cover image Half-Life of a Stolen Sister

Half-Life of a Stolen Sister

Rachel Cantor. Soho, $26 (384) ISBN 978-1-64129-464-5

Cantor (Good on Paper) spins a free-ranging and intriguing tale of a literary family inspired by the Brontës that incorporates a mix of forms and anachronistic details. Maria, Eliza, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontey grow up in an unspecified time and place. Their mother dies soon after Anne is born, and their father, a pastor, is a kindly but inattentive parent. After Maria and Eliza die from an illness, their aunt reluctantly takes charge of a dirty and chaotic household, while their father lectures on morality. Kept out of school, the surviving sisters are self-educated, visiting museums and libraries to learn about ancient Greece, famous historical figures, and mythology, elements they use in their elaborate world of play. Cantor’s frisky and time-collapsing blend of forms elevates the experiment above run-of-the-mill Brontë fodder. In one chapter, titled “Send. Delete,” Charlotte, away working unhappily as a nanny, uses her charge’s computer to draft a series of emails addressed to her family back home; in another, a publisher fields questions from a radio interviewer about three pseudonymous authors’ identities. These flights of fancy blend seamlessly with passages written in a Victorian style, such as an account of Charlotte and Emily studying art history in Rome, where Charlotte agonizes over unrequited love. For Brontë fans, this is a jolt of fresh air. (July)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified the book’s setting and mischaracterized the publisher’s relationship with the three pseudonymous authors.