Thursday, April 4, 2019

Book 175: The Sisters Chase

"The Chase girls stayed the next morning until it was time to check out, lying on the bed and basking in the infinitude of being nowhere. The motel served Saran-Wrapped Danish, hard-boiled eggs, and orange for breakfast, and Mary and Hannah ate them in their room, Hannah feeling the optimism of going somewhere, Mary feeling the relief of having left. The Chase girls were always happiest in those brief moments of in-between, when neither of them was sacrificing, neither of them being sacrificed."

Dates read: September 6-9, 2017

Rating: 2/10

To be honest, I was not very excited about my sister when she arrived. I'd been perfectly happy as an only child, thank you very much. When she was about 6 weeks old (I was 4 and a half), my mom caught me carrying my sister towards the kitchen. She asked me what I was doing, so I told her that I was throwing her away because all she did was cry. When I was informed that I couldn't actually toss her in the trash, I tried to bargain down to returning her to the hospital. No dice. We fought like crazy growing up, but now that we're all grown up, she's someone I love and cherish. Thanks for not letting me bin her, Mom.

The titular sisters of Sarah Healy's The Sisters Chase couldn't be more different. Fourteen years older, Mary has dark coloring and a corresponding dark personality...she's ruthlessly pragmatic, manipulative, proud and ungovernable. Hannah, however, is blonde and takes after the nursery rhyme in that she seems to be made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Their single mother owns and runs a hotel in a seaside town on the East Coast and has a night shift at a nearby casino to keep their family going during the off-season. But when she's killed in a car crash, Mary and Hannah find themselves on their own. Back taxes on the hotel and no life insurance mean that they're broke, and so Mary takes Hannah and leaves the only home they've ever known to try to take care of her.

After Mary successfully prises some seed money from wealthy relatives in Florida, she and Hannah (who Mary calls "Bunny") connect with an old acquaintance of hers in New England. Things seem stable, and even like they might end up happy, but Mary's past shows up to bite them and they leave. As Hannah grows up, they continue to travel, Mary refusing to put roots down anywhere for too long, until they wind up in California. Hannah, now on the cusp of her teenage years, wants desperately to stay in one place and so several months pass, but the idyll can't last and eventually tragedy strikes.

All of that is super vague, I know, because I do try to avoid spoilers and this book is very much "about" its plot and its mysteries. You'll notice above that I've rated this book quite poorly, and part of that is that is just because the kind of book that it is: plot-over-character is not my cup of tea, but this was a book club pick after a couple months of heavier, slower material so I gave it a shot. Turns out, I still don't get a lot out of this style of novel, and that's okay. Not every book is for every person, and my ratings are intended to be a reflection, at least in part, of my own experience of reading the book and the enjoyment I got out of it. But my ratings are also informed by my opinion of the quality of the book and how well it did what it was trying to do, and this is where The Sisters Chase really took a nosedive.

One of the reasons I tend to be personally pro-spoiler is that I feel like if "the twists" are all you have, you don't have a story. The Sisters Chase indulges heavily in one of the ways I find most irritating of shielding "the twists" deliberately hides information known to the characters from the reader. It's not that this can't be done well (the way Gone Girl "hides" that Nick Dunne's mysterious calls are actually from his mistress because he's a bad husband, not from a conspirator because he's a murderer, for example), it's that this book doesn't do them well. I guessed the big twist long in advance and I'm awful at guessing the twist. And I had a huge issue with characterization, too. The book actually has very few characters it spends any significant amount of time with (primarily Mary and Hannah), so should be able to round them out more fully. Instead, both the girls are flat. Mary is the kind of "she's beautiful...but wild" stereotype I've always found deeply irritating, and Hannah is so milquetoast that she's barely there. I've always thought that the three most important elements of a novel are plot, character, and writing, and a book needs two of three better than average to be good, and all three to be truly great. This book was not successful, for me, in any of those areas. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Tell me, blog you try to rate books? If you do, are your rankings purely objective or is there subjectivity there too?

One year ago, I was reading: Sophia of Silicon Valley

Two years ago, I was reading: Moonglow

Three years ago, I was reading: Suspicious Minds


  1. I sometimes rate the books I read, and those ratings are purely subjective. I can only say what kinds of books I like; although I do try to explain why I didn't like a book more objectively so other readers can decide for themselves if the book would work for them or not. But we all read so differently. That's what makes reading other people's blogs so fun. :)

    1. I agree, I love reading other people's takes on books I've read...thinking about the different things people can get out of the same book is so interesting!