Excerpt from The Girls by Lori Lansens, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Girls

by Lori Lansens

The Girls
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 352 pages
    Apr 2007, 368 pages

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Ruby and I share a common blood supply. My blood flows normally in the left side of my brain, but the blood in my right (the connected side) flows to my sister's left, and vice versa for her. It's estimated that we share a web of one hundred veins as well as our skull bones. Our cerebral tissue is fully enmeshed, our vascular systems snarled like briar bushes, but our brains themselves are separate and functioning. Our thoughts are distinctly our own. Our selves have struggled fiercely to be unique, and in fact we're more different than most identical twins. I like sports, but I'm also bookish, while Ruby is girlie and prefers television. When Ruby is tired, I'm hardly ever ready for bed. We're rarely hungry together and our tastes are poles apart: I prefer spicy fare, while my sister has a disturbing fondness for eggs.

Ruby believes in God and ghosts and reincarnation. (Ruby won't speculate on her next incarnation though, as if imagining something different from what she is now would betray us both.) I believe the best the dead can hope for is to be conjured from time to time, through a note of haunting music or a passage in a book.

I've never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby's gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.

This is the story of my life. I'm calling it Autobiography of a Conjoined Twin. But since my sister claims that it can't technically ("technically" is Ruby's current favorite word) be considered an autobiography and is opposed to my telling what she considers our story, I have agreed that she should write some chapters from her point of view. I will strive to tell my story honestly, allowing that my truth will be colored a shade different from my sister's and acknowledging that it's sometimes necessary for the writer to connect the dots.

What I know about writing I've learned mostly from reading books and from Aunt Lovey, who, along with Uncle Stash (born Stanislaus Darlensky in Grozovo, Slovakia, in 1924), raised Ruby and me from birth. I was accepted into the English program at a nearby university, but Ruby wouldn't agree to go. I knew she'd refuse, but I'd applied to the school anyway, so I could be aggrieved and excused. With Ruby sulking at my side, I'd handed the acceptance letter to Aunt Lovey. "How can I ever be a writer if I don't study writing? How can I be a writer if I don't even have a degree?" I cried.

Aunt Lovey hated self-pity. "Don't blame your sister if you don't become a writer. I don't know how pistons piss, but I can sure as hell drive a car." She gave me a look and strode away.

The next day Aunt Lovey presented me with a book called Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster. She wrapped it in leftover Christmas paper and taped a daisy from the garden to the top, even though it was a library book, due back in two weeks. Then she drove me to the Kmart to purchase a ten-pack of pencils and a stack of yellow legal pads. Ruby threw up out the car window when we pulled into the parking lot, somewhat ruining the excursion. As Aunt Lovey cleaned the side of the Impala, I opened Aspects of the Novel to a random page and read aloud from a long, tedious paragraph on the subject of death and the treatment of death in the novel. Aunt Lovey beamed at me as though I'd written the passage myself. Ruby groaned, but I don't know if it was illness or envy.

From the very beginning, Ruby hated my writing. She didn't see the point of my character sketches and accused me of cheating when my poems didn't rhyme. One time, after reading one of my short stories, she asked me, "Who are you writing this for anyway, Rose?" I was stung. Because I didn't know. And thought I should. My love of reading has distanced my sister and me. Ruby has never enjoyed books, unless you count children's books and the Hollywood magazines she drools over in doctors' waiting rooms.

Copyright © 2005 by Lori Lansens

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