The Almost Archer Sisters: A Novel

The Almost Archer Sisters: A Novel

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by Lisa Gabriele

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Georgia "Peachy" Archer always thought she was happy with her choices in life: quitting college, marrying young, raising two boys in the same small town where she grew up. But just as Peachy's life is beginning to settle into a careful routine, her sister's life begins to dangerously unravel.

Beth Archer chose a different life: fancy apartment in Manhattan,


Georgia "Peachy" Archer always thought she was happy with her choices in life: quitting college, marrying young, raising two boys in the same small town where she grew up. But just as Peachy's life is beginning to settle into a careful routine, her sister's life begins to dangerously unravel.

Beth Archer chose a different life: fancy apartment in Manhattan, fancy friends, making lots of money. She's been on her own since she was a teenager, and she's still on her own, outgrowing dress styles and boyfriends faster than Peachy can inherit them. But on a visit home one weekend, Beth upends everything Peachy thought she knew about being happy.

In the tradition of Jennifer Weiner and Melissa Bank, The Almost Archer Sisters is a refreshingly honest portrait of sisterhood, motherhood, and female mayhem in its many states of grievance, grace, and forgiveness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

There were never such devoted sisters, or ones so hilariously and heartbreakingly conflicted about loyalty and love as the ones in Gabriele's brisk second novel (Tempting Faith DiNapoli). Thoughtful, married-mom Georgie "Peachy" Archer and big-city-girl Beth, her older sister, grow up on a Canadian farm with their hairdressing, Vietnam draft-dodging dad, Lou, and share the pain of their mom's suicide. But that's where the similarities end-until the sisters swap lives for a weekend. Walking in Beth's shoes around New York City, Peachy meets Beth's discreet doorman, snarky friends and disapproving ex-boyfriend, and gets a crash course in understanding what her brash sister's really about. Here is a charming, smart and honest story of two sisters who learn to embrace the lives they have. Gabriele's writing is sharp and her heart is pure gold. This honest tale of passionate, mixed-up and forgiving families is hard to put down. (Oct.)

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Library Journal

Georgia "Peachy" Archer feels like she has always lived in the shadow of her older sister; Beth's glamorous life in New York City is worlds away from Peachy's life on the family farm with her husband and two sons, one of whom suffers from epilepsy. When Beth goes through a bad breakup, she sets up a fake online-dating profile with Peachy's picture to secretly pump her ex for information about her faults. But when Peachy stumbles across an intimate moment between her sister and her husband during Beth's visit to the farm, it's Peachy who decides to bring Beth's personal ad to life, with far-reaching consequences. She heads to New York to meet with Beth's ex under the fake ID, leaving Beth to live a slice of her life for a weekend. This strong follow-up to Tempting Faith DiNapoli is sharply funny and deeply emotional. Gabriele covers a lot of raw emotional ground, including alcoholism, suicide, draft dodging, infidelity, motherhood, and sisterhood, with a firm yet forgiving touch. A welcome addition to women's fiction, this uplifting novel about the power of family and forgiveness is highly recommended for all public libraries.-Amy Brozio-Andrews, Albany P.L., NY

Kirkus Reviews
Canadian sisters clash and cling. Raised by hippie parents in a small farm town, Peachy and Beth Archer learn about grief at a young age when they discover their mother's suicide note and lifeless body. Beth, the older sister, uses alcohol, sex and drugs to ease her pain. She flees Canada for the opportunity to reinvent herself as a stylist in New York City, where financial and career success come easy, but her love life is a train wreck and drama a constant companion. Peachy in turn transforms herself into the mother she always wanted, stable and dependable. She marries one of Beth's castoffs and becomes a stay-at-home mom to two boys. Caretaker of the family homestead, she grows tethered to the farm and lets die her dream of becoming a social worker. Phone calls and Beth's periodic Canadian sojourns keep the sisters intimate. Peachy serves as Beth's moral compass while simultaneously envying her escapades. Their relationship crumbles when Beth returns home with the intention of bringing Peachy to New York City for a bit of culture. The night before the trip, Beth takes her wild behavior too far, and this time her sister won't pick up the pieces. Peachy heads to NYC alone, leaving Beth to clean up her own mess. Humbled, Beth frantically tries to make things right as Peachy revels in her freedom. Gabriele (Tempting Faith DiNapoli, 2002, etc.) is unrivaled at conveying the messy side of motherhood: Peachy writes of "the constant laundry of my life, the sweat socks and skid marks and pee of my boys and men." She's a welcome new member to the short list of authors with the power to fully inhabit her characters (think Bobbie Ann Mason or Jane Smiley), leaving the chick-lit purveyors in thedust. A richly crafted tale of redemption and reinvention that stands out from the crowd.

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chapter one

Until she left the farm for good, I never thought much about what made me different from my sister, what set me apart from her beyond our looks, beyond her hair color (unnatural blond) and mine (unremarkable brown), her body type (tall, thin) and mine (neither). She had always been fickle where I had been firm — mean to my kind. She shone brighter than me, for sure, but sometimes painfully so, like the way the sun hurts to look at when you have a head cold.

But it wasn't until I left the farm years later that another difference made itself clear: unlike with Beth, men had mostly been good to me; it was women who broke my heart. First our mother, then Beth.

I was almost sixteen the morning she left Lou and me for school in New York, her packing so purposeful that the whole house seemed windy with her escape. As I watched her, my slippered feet swinging off the side of her bed, I don't remember thinking that I'd never leave myself. I hadn't planned to stay forever in the same house, town, and country in which I was born. Do stayers do that? Do we toddle around as babies, then children, then teenagers, fingering the chipped Formica, the cat-mangled armchairs, the muggy drapes, thinking, I'm pretty sure this old house and these burnt fields are as good as it's ever going to get for me, think I'll stay? I didn't do that. That's not how it happened.

"Throw me that belt, Peach," Beth said, half-awake, sipping coffee Lou had carried upstairs on a tray. "Dammit, I hate my clothes. I'm gonna have to steal some new outfits."

"Go ahead. Dad says you're old enough to go to jail now and he won't bail you out this time."

She gave me an archlook.

"Want these?" She excavated her roller skates from the bowelsof her closet and was holding them up in her clothespinned fingers. "Can't be bombing around campus in these. Or can I? Maybe that could be a cool way of getting around. Short shorts. Maybe a little felt cap?"

I could picture it too, Beth on the way to class roller-skating backward, wearing her Walkman.

"Nah, on second thought, they're stinky and old. You have them," she said, gently tossing them with the rest of her castoffs engulfing me on the bed. That's how Beth parted with things. Even then, I was aware that in order for Beth to let go of something she had to convince herself that she had never wanted it to begin with.

"How about this?" she asked, pressing her long silver prom dress to my shoulders. It was an unsettlingly grown-up gown, a mermaid-style confection she had daringly paired with hippytype sandals and rows of leather bracelets on her upper arms. Beth had also brought an actual grown-up to the gala, a twenty-fouryear-old professional hockey player with a drinking problem and an ex-wife. "Maybe someone will ask you next year if you put down a book and put on some lipstick. And if they do, Peachy, go, okay?"

Prom night had turned into a lost weekend for Beth, during which time we received no fewer than a dozen phone calls from her date's ex, threatening murder. As for me, I'd spend my own prom night with Lou, coaxing a wounded raccoon out from underneath the porch. We had seen it get hit by a car on the highway, had watched it quickly amble to the farmhouse, ducking under a breakin the lattice. For days Lou hunkered under the house to move the flashlight across its face to see if the raccoon's eyes reflected back at him. I would periodically place sardines on the end of my field hockey stick and wave it in front of its nose, pleading with it to take a bite, Just a bite, come on, please?

Poor thing took four days to die. We buried it in a laundry bag by the willow stump that served as the farm's morbidly crowded animal cemetery. Maybe because of the encroaching subdivisions and widening highways, the farm became a kind of last-stop refuge for these luckless creatures, a place where the wounded could get a bit of comfort before dying. And I became, like Lou, a talented cheerleader for those who'd arrive at our doorstep on their last legs.

Beth took a dusty, unframed picture of our mother off a high shelf, its edges curled from resting slumped in a corner. In it Nell's on a beach shielding her eyes from the sun, the other hand holding up three fingers — the number of months she was pregnant with Beth. On the back someone had scribbled "Santa Cruz '71." I wish I could say Beth became mournfully reflective. I would like to have remembered that moment as one infused with tender sadness over our mother's death, one of the few things we shared. But instead Beth flung it in my direction like a Frisbee.

"Want this?"

Before I could answer, Lou struck a knuckle on her doorjamb, the dog peeking around his legs with endearing curiosity. Scoots had long given up entering Beth's room alone. It had been off-limits to him since he was introduced to us a year earlier, when even he seemed to sense Beth's ambivalence toward anything cute or kind. She wasn't a cooer or a petter, so Lou's attempt to use a puppy to keep his errant oldest closer to home had failed miserably. In fact, that's how he got his name, from Beth kicking him away from her, saying, "Scoot, dog. Get out of here. Stop licking my feet."

"Your ride called," Lou said. "I'm gonna go meet them."

At orientation a month earlier Beth had met a girl from Leamington whose parents were also sending her to school in New York to study fashion and design. They offered to bring Beth over the border with them in their big pickup truck with the passenger cab, but it meant she'd be limited to two boxes and two suitcases. The rest Lou and I would have to ship.

Beth gave them directions to the Starlite, the convenience store in the center of town. It was easy to find; the farm wasn't. We knew how to get ourselves home, but when we had trouble guiding people over the train tracks, past the highway, over two county roads and several concessions, it was best to just send them to the store, where one of us would drive the ten minutes to fetch them. The store used to dazzle Beth. Its clean neon sign and plain white stucco exterior belied a busy inside; narrow aisles with saggy metal shelves were stuffed with loud metallic bags of junk food, sewing supplies, kitchen utensils, and cheap games and toys made in foreign countries. It was a place crowded with choices and Beth loved it. And for a long time our mother could use a trip to the Starlite to get her to behave in a hurry. But after our mother died, the toys began to look used and poor to Beth, the doll's hair plugs apparent through the dusty plastic, their stenciled eyes and mouths misaligned and kind of menacing. Soon after, Lou's own promises to stop at the Starlite were greeted by bored sighs and blank stares out the car window.

Lou moved sheepishly about the house looking for his keys, all of us aware that political stubbornness was the only thing preventing him from driving Beth to New York himself.

Lou hadn't stepped foot in the United States in almost eighteen years, not since arriving on Canadian shores as a welcome draft dodger and proud coward. But Beth didn't seem to mind that morning. I had often wondered if her love affair with America wasn't partly fueled by the knowledge that her shabby kin couldn't, or in my case, wouldn't, follow her there.

"Okay, gals, be back in ten!" he yelled, the front door slamming behind him.

"I think that's it," Beth said, surveying the room, fists at her hips. Then she plopped down next to me on a bed piled high with her past. "Peachy, I need to tell you something, okay?"

"Yeah," I said, shrugging my shoulders up to my ears, bracing myself against potential poignancy. It wasn't that we weren't close, but her adolescence had left me battle-weary. Discussions about periods, orgasms, heartbreaks, and hangovers had always been completely one-sided and uncomfortably forthcoming.

Beth took a deep breath.

"Okay. In that box," she said, pointing to one of four we'd be shipping, "is several thousand dollars' worth of high-grade marijuana. A kind of mix between local skunk and Holland white widow that I've been growing out back behind the barn all summer. It's been properly dried and wrapped in plastic. Then I sealed the bundles in some coffee tins I've been hoarding. If the border police find it, you could go to jail. But I'm ninety-five percent certain that they won't. So no worries. And I'll take the rap. That is, if they find me. But just make sure those boxes are completely sealed, okay? And make sure you ship them after me as soon as possible, today even, because I know how you and Lou procrastinate about going into town for errands. You guys put things off. I don't want to wait two weeks for them. I need that box, Peachy. You understand what I'm telling you, right?"

During the cruel five seconds that passed before she burst into her wicked laughter — the kind that bent her completely forward onto her hands and knees on the floor of a bedroom we'd leave exactly as she left it — I actually pictured a SWAT team pulling up our long gravel driveway, brandishing rifles.

"Holy shit, Peachy, you should have seen your face! Oh my God, you kill me you are so fucking naïve."

I punched the side of her arm hard.


"Jesus, Beth. You are such a bitch! Why do you do that to me?"

"Oh my God," she said, panting for air and rubbing the spot where I hit her. "Because I can."

We heard Lou's Jeep turn into the driveway, followed by the Leamington family's tires hitting the gravel. At a honk we sprang up and began to gather her things. Beth giggled as she loaded my shoulders with her carry-on and her knapsack. Lou appeared in the doorway with his sleeves rolled up over his downy white forearms. Beth hoisted one of the two smaller boxes she was bringing with her and pointed with a foot to the other one. Lou and I formed the not-so-reluctant caravan following her down the stairs, out the front door, across the porch, and into the cool August dawn.

Introductions were short and vague. The rich girl's father beganto ask Lou about the kind of crops growing on the acres that lushlysurrounded our farmhouse. Before Lou could tell him they weren'tour crops, that much of the remaining land was leased after theoutside acres had been sold to pay for Beth's tuition, Beth swattedus back and away, far from the truck to make our private, awkwardgoodbye.

"Okay. So. I guess this is it," she said, hooking an arm around Lou's broad shoulders then mine. They were exactly the same height, both a full head taller than I. "I'll call you when I get settled, Lou. And I'll see you at Thanksgiving. The American one."

"Well, my love," Lou said, his blue eyes watered down with genuine tears. "We will miss you oh so much, you know?"

"Aw," she said, cocking her head as though Lou had merely been her kindly landlord for seventeen years and not the man whose last name she shared, who had sold most of his property to pay for her dreams.

"I'll miss you too, Beth. A little," I said, still bruised by her prank. I tried hard to catch up to Lou's emotions, to muster up at least a hint of something sad around my eyes, but I couldn't. It's not that I wouldn't miss her, but in the weeks and months before her departure I was becoming curious about what life would be like on a Beth-less farm and in what direction I might grow if I ever got out from under her dense shadow. I had plans. University, and then the purchase of a car perhaps. I wanted to grow out my bangs, read in peace without Beth snatching my books and lobbing them across the room if she wanted my attention. Perhaps I'd visit Nana Beecher in Florida. Nothing dramatic. But plans nonetheless.

"Oh, you will miss me. Believe me, Peach. You just don't know it yet," she said.

And that was it. She was gone. I did the walk and wave, following the heavy truck backing out of the driveway, later joining Lou on the porch, where we watched the sun come all the way out, the two of us sipping coffees on Nana Beecher's wicker chairs. It was so quiet the air felt tinged with religion. Still, we wasted no time in reminiscing, both of us laughing loud and hard at Beth's pot prank.

"Oh, man," Lou said, exhaling with a whistle, "you can call Beth Ann Archer a lot of things, but you can't say she isn't funny. That's funny, Peach."

"I know. I walked right into it too," I said, shaking my head.

"Always do."

"I know it."

We took in some more silence.

"You need to check that box though," Lou said, taking a sip of coffee, "before we send it."

"Already did," I said, leaning back to click his cup with mine. I left out the part about cutting open the box and finding a sealed envelope resting on top of a pile of sweaters, my real name, "Georgia," printed in Beth's neat scroll. Inside was a note.

Gotcha! I suppose I deserve it. I haven't been all that trustworthy lately. Anyway, Miss Georgia Peach, I just wanted to tell you that I love you more than monkeys, mountains, or the moon, because I probably won't be able to say it to you in person before I go. Be good. Or at least be gooder than me. XXOO Beth.

I placed the picture of Nell in the envelope and resealed the box. Later, Lou and I drove into town to ship them.

Over the next few years, while Beth pledged passionate allegiance to a flag he hated, Lou refurbished a silver Airstream trailer and turned it into a hair salon he parked out back near the river. While Beth made out with strapping models in crimson darkrooms, married instructors in dim hotel rooms, and one Korean lesbian on a dare, I lost my virginity to seedy Dougie Beauchamp after a high school rock concert and some beer in a parked car. While Beth financed her first trip to the couture shows in Milan by taking a summer job selling ecstasy for an overleveraged bond trader, I began studying for a glamorous career in social work, chosen because Beth always said I was a good listener, a great helper, her favorite sidekick, and, like her, I should try to make a living at whatever came naturally to me.

So I began the daily commute to the university to study the art and science of helping people help themselves. There I would learn how to negotiate the psychological landmines of longing and loathing, and to dissect how families can easily fall into the throes of violence, poverty, and addiction. It was hard work, but I often felt like I'd be embarking upon something necessary, noble even, after graduation. So I acted smug rather than jealous when Beth called to say she had landed a high-paying job dressing vapid celebrities for national television. Sure, I would have liked to have gone to Rome or Paris on a press junket, and I wouldn't have said no to meeting a movie star or eating a five-hundred-dollar meal. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that it was more important to help people be good than look good. Unlike several of my classmates, I actually read my expensive textbooks cover to cover, highlighting the parts I would later memorize, making it a priority to put a dent in the suggested readings list between the extra courses taken in an attempt to graduate a little earlier. Because Lou was right — managing the lives of the less fortunate felt like a thing I was born to do. I saw my name, Georgia Archer, before it was caboosed by Laliberté, with a B.S.W. on the end, followed perhaps by an M.S.W., and still later a Ph.D., because you never know. And I wanted it — really meant it — all the way up to the day I quit school, six credits shy of my degree, and a few months after the nicest guy in town knocked me up and married me at twenty.

Copyright © 2008 by Lisa Gabriele

Meet the Author

Lisa Gabriele is the author of the widely acclaimed novel Tempting Faith Di Napoli. Her writing has appeared in Glamour, Vice, and Salon as well as various anthologies, including the Best American Nonrequired Reading. She’s a regular contributor to Nerve. Gabriele lives in Toronto.

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Almost Archer Sisters 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first reviewer basically spelled out the whole plot. She did a thorough reviewing job, so I only want to add my vote of two thumbs WAY up for this author. Yes, this book falls into the category of "chick lit", but I thought it was a definite level up from most of them. The story is told in first person by the main character, "Peachy" Archer, and I almost always could feel every emotion she described. Her areas of self-confidence or lack thereof came through as incredibly realistic, and her swings between anger and love for both her sister Beth and her husband also resonated through Gabriele's incredible writing style. And that style is refreshingly original, avoiding the often trite cliches used by many other authors when writing about interpersonal family relationships. This is an author whom I wish had written many more books already, because I would rush out to buy and read them all!
Twink More than 1 year ago
knew I had a doctor's appointment after work the other day, so I quickly stuck The Almost Archer Sisters in my bag to take with me. My doctor is invariably behind, so an hour and a half later, it was my turn. But honestly, I was so engrossed in this book, I really didn't notice how much time had passed. (I was in a much better place than those stuck reading outdated Sports Illustrated)

This second novel from Lisa Gabriele is one of those books that is a found gem - one you have to let your friends know about.

It tells the story of two sisters who were raised on a farm in Ontario. Beth is a wild child who pushed the boundaries of everything growing up and continues to do so as an adult. She fled the farm and moved to New York to pursue a successful career. The other sister Georgia, but known to all as Peachy, stayed at home. She got pregnant and married before she finished her social work degree. Her husband, Beau, was Beth's first lover. Their father, Lou, a draft dodging hairdresser, also lives on the farm in a trailer.

Beth's life seems be unravelling and she is coming home to the farm for more frequent visits. Peachy's life is stressful as well. Her son Sam has severe epilepsy. Her focus lately has been on his health, not on her other son and husband.

Things come to a head during one Beth's visits. Peachy gets up in the night and walks in on her sister and Beau - and they're not playing cards.

What could have precipitated such a betrayal? Can any relationship - the siblings, the husband and wife, the father and daughters - ever recover or be rebuilt after such perfidy?

Gabriele's writing is at turns funny and poignant but above all else it is real. I was captivated by the characters and could not put the book down. It was Peachy who captured my heart - she's someone you would love to really know. The ending isn't cut and dried, leaving you to form your own conclusions. This would be a great selection for a book club. And I have another wonderful Canadian author to put on my favourites list!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago