Sister by A. Manette Ansay | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Sister

Sister

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by A. Manette Ansay
     
 

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"When my brother disappeared in 1984, I began to see myself in the third person as if my life were a story being told to someone else."

Abigail Schiller lives a seemingly normal childhood in a rural Catholic commuinity in Wisconsin. But that life is shattered when her younger brother, Sam, vanishes at the age of seventeen, fleeing

Overview

"When my brother disappeared in 1984, I began to see myself in the third person as if my life were a story being told to someone else."

Abigail Schiller lives a seemingly normal childhood in a rural Catholic commuinity in Wisconsin. But that life is shattered when her younger brother, Sam, vanishes at the age of seventeen, fleeing their father's rigid rules of masculinity and the violence their mother denies. Finally, thirty years old and expecting a child of her own, Abby is determined to retrace her lost sibling's dark descent—embarking upon an emotional journey that will test the strength of her spirit, and contradict everything, she once believed about her family and herself.

A stunning work of rare poignance and unsettling power, A. Manette Ansay's Sister marks the literary maturation of a truly exceptional voice in contemporary American fiction. Deftly spinning triumph out of tragedy, the award-winning author of Vinegar Hill offers us a fresh understanding, of family, memory, faith.Abigail Schiller lives in a seemingly normal childhood in a rural Catholic community in Wisconsin. But that life is shattered when her younger brother, Sam, vanishes at the age of seventeen, fleeing their father's rigid rules of masculinity and the violence their mother denies. Finally, thirty years old and expecting a child of her own, Abby is determined to retrace her lost sibling's dark descent—embarking upon an emotional journey that will test the strength of her spirit, and contradict everything she once believed her family and herself.

A stunning work of race poignance and unsettling power, A. Manette Ansay's Sister marks the literary maturation of a truly exceptional voice in contemporary American fiction. Deftly spinning triumph out of tragedy, the award-winning author of Vinegar Hill Offers us a fresh understanding of family, memory, and faith.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
A soul aches here, and the future seems forlorn. But Sister rises above that with frankness and acuity, and the rhythmic beauty of its prose.
Elle
A deeply satisfying story. . .There is beauty, and clarity and much sadness in Sister . . .Ansay writes with grace and assurance. . .You feel the wonder and the terror of these scarred, ineluctably entwined lives.
Howard Frank Mosher
A. Manette Ansay's best work of fiction to date: highly original and entertaining powerful, and told in a racy distinctly American voice.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Intense and deeply affecting, Ansay's second novel (after Vinegar Hill and a short-story collection, Read This and Tell Me What it Says) is about lossof human relationships, of religious faith and in the value of lifeand about the mysterious process by which affirmation can again be achieved. It is also yet another story of a dysfunctional family, but Ansay explores this territory with restraint, creating a narrative that rings with emotional truth. From the perspective of marriage and prospective motherhood, narrator Abby Schiller reflects back on the years prior to her 17-year-old brother Sam's disappearance in 1984. As children, she and Sam are psychologically maimed by their bullying father, who brutally taunts them and insists that they conform to strictly differentiated gender roles. The manager of a Ford agency in a small rural township in Wisconsin, Gordon Schiller ridicules Sam's artistic interests, calling him a sissy; drives Abby to a nervous breakdown with his carping about purity and a woman's place in the home; and alienates their mother, Therese, who defiantly takes a job to achieve some independence. Sam, his gentle nature eventually corrupted by fear and anger, seeks salvation among druggies and punks who introduce him to violence. Abby is pulled back from the brink of despair by her devoutly Catholic grandmother. Later, however, when Abby breaks away from the Church, she incurs her grandmother's fury. With quiet assurance, Ansay conveys the atmosphere of a warm, tightly knit community permeated by Catholic observance, where belief in traditional marriage and a husband's preeminence gives some women security and others a lifelong sentence of servitude. Abby's difficult road to understanding, acceptance and a state of grace is related with beautiful control, and this heartbreaking novel resonates with wisdom about life's hard truths. (July)
Library Journal
The sibling bond that stretches beyond life itself is the focus of this beautiful and poignant new novel by the author of Vinegar Hill (LJ 8/94). In the first person, Abby reflects on her childhood and her long-lost brother, Sam, while awaiting the birth of her first child. Though her rural Wisconsin upbringing seemed to be fairly typical, as Abby becomes more honest with herself, we see the father's strictness as the abuse it truly was and the mother's faith as neglect. As Abby reflects on how she was able to survive her childhood when Sam was not, many readers will similarly revisit their own pasts. This well-written novel should have broad appeal.Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati Technical Coll. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Second-novelist Ansay (Vinegar Hill, 1994) again traces the scars of childhood emotional abuse—here, strikingly rendered, the crippling and even deadly effects of abuse on the lives of Abby and Sam Schiller, the children of a sadistic small-town midwestern car dealer, as they grow toward troubled adulthood in the 1970s and '80s.

The characters are vivid, the reconstruction of events suspenseful and convincing. Abby, the narrator, now 30, married, settled in New York State, and pregnant with her first child, is haunted by the memory of her younger brother's baffling disappearance from their hometown of Horton, Wisconsin, one summer afternoon in 1984, 12 years before; he was never seen again. At an emotional turning point, Abby finds herself reliving Sam's slow deterioration from the sweet, imaginative, charming best buddy of her grade-school years to the defiant, self-destructive dropout who vanished on the heels of a series of town robberies. She traces his troubles primarily to her father's paranoid, unrelenting ridicule of Sam's "sissified" interests—and his jealousy of the boy's attachment to Abby. As familiar as these family dynamics are, the author superbly dramatizes scenes of the father's sarcastic nastiness and the kids' humiliation. The result is chilling and memorable—making the story's mild, unconvincing later developments all the more disappointing. After Sam's disappearance, Abby's father goes berserk and leaves the family; her mother becomes an increasingly devout Catholic; and Abby loses both her religious faith and her interest in a career as a musician. When, at the end, Sam's body is discovered buried in a field near the old family home, answers to all remaining mysteries (how did he die? when and why?) get swallowed up in a sentimental subplot concerning whether or not Abby will baptize the new baby.

A gifted writer who needs to pace herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780380729760
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/28/1997
Series:
Harper Perennial
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

If you've never been inside a Catholic church, I'll show you what it's like to go there, believing, into the cool dark air with only the light from the sacristy to guide you. Imagine the half-filled pews stretched out in rows as quiet, as impossibly even, as the rows of corn and soy in the fields behind the houses that trail from the church in four directions, the way light beams radiate from a child's sketch of the sun. Pretend you've just come from one of these houses, as I have, as my grandmother has, as all the people around us have, and at first the measured stillness of the church seems torturous, unbroken, unbearable. But as your eyes widen to accept the dusk, you'll notice a handkerchief twisted from palm to palm, a jiggling foot in an open-toed shoe. And, too, there are smells: rose perfume wafting from beneath a loosened collar, whiffs of manure from rubber-soled boots, dust that (I read this as a child, wanted it to be true) is mostly organic, made up of epidermal cells and bits of human hair. There is dust layering the top of the holy water font, where we dip the tips of our third fingers before making the sign of the cross. There is dust smudging the colors of the stained-glass windows, dust on the legs of the table where we select this month's missalette, dust on the intricate statues with their deep, worried eyes. Everywhere there is evidence of the body's desire for its own beginnings, the soul's helium float back to God.

I want you to be here with us. I want you to feel what I feel, a teenage girl towering over her grandmother at the back of this small Wisconsin church. There is the altar boy in his cumbersome smock, peeking out from the doors off the sacristy,excused from English or Math or Civics to serve the daily noon Mass. There are the men on their lunch breaks, the smattering of older retired men, and so many women!--young mothers with their sleeping babies, older mothers in groups of three and four, and the dozens of widows, women like my grandmother, who are the raw heart of this church. When they speak, you hear the older languages floating around their tongues. They wear their hair in tight, curly nests; thin gold bands still dent their fourth fingers. They carry what they need in big black purses, secured with fist-like clasps, these women who remember times without bread when they had to feed themselves and their families on their own ingenuity and the Word.

The men of my grandfather's generation were like visitors, cherished as guests who could not be relied on to stay for very long. They went off to war and disappeared, they were crushed under heavy farm machinery, they shot each other by accident and on purpose, they fell off horses and rooftops and silos, drowned in rivers, succumbed to snakebite, emphysema, whiskey. After my grandfather died of tetanus in I947, my grandmother raised their four daughters and maintained the farm; when land taxes threatened to rise, it was she who sent the oldest two, Mary and Elise, to work in the cannery. Men died young; you mourned, you kept their graves tenderly, and--somehow--you went on. But when fire broke out, snuffing the lives of those daughters and fifteen other girls into ash, the shock left Oneisha and all the surrounding towns senseless with grief. These girls were the seed of the community, some of them already married and putting down roots like their mothers. A tragedy like this must have happened for a reason, and for some, that reason was all too clear. A girl's place was in the home, not working for cash in an ungodly world where company owners locked fire doors, paranoid about theft. My grandmother was thirty-eight years old. For the rest of her life she would blame herself for my young aunts' deaths. She sold the farm and moved her remaining daughters to town, where she kept them close to her, forever close. By the time I was born, in I965, she was in her fifties, sharp and strong. God-like.

We pause at the back of the church, lingering the way polite guests do before walking toward the area where we always sit, the heels of my grandmother's short boots meeting the floor with absolute certainty. I stay close behind her, feeling every inch of my height, my feet kicking after one another like loosely tossed stones. A place to sit. For some there are choices. One might choose to go all the way to the front, to sit half hidden from the lectern by the bulky old confessionals; one might stay by the new, modern confessionals at the back. There are favorite seats beside the pillars that support the fat, curved belly of the ceiling, with its painting of angels ministering to Mary as she walks in the cherry orchard; there are seats beneath the mounted statues, where a child might sit to admire the delicate toes of the apostles. But we sit in the middle of the church, away from the pillars, the statues, potential distractions, away from the drafts that pulse from beneath the warped frames of the windows, whisper from the long, dark line where the walls meet the floor. My grandmother rubs the knuckles of my hand with her thumb, her peculiar gesture of affection, and I glow with her touch, with the knowing looks of the women around us who observe me at Mass, day after day, and whisper the word vocation. Sometimes I am asked to sing while the other parishioners kneel at the altar, five at a time, to receive Communion. My musical talent, like all good things, is God's gift, and such a gift is both a blessing and a burden. You wonder if you are worthy. You wonder what God might expect in return.

I want you to be here with us. I want you to feel what we feel. This is the tray that holds the hymnal, attached to the back of the next pew. This is the old-fashioned hat clip beside it. That is the altar with its hand-sewn linens, which are laundered by the Ladies of the Altar. Here are the flowers these same women bring with them from their gardens or sunrooms to decorate the church. These are the woven wicker baskets that will be circulated twice during the course of the Mass by old Otto Leibenstein: once to help the missionaries, once to maintain the parish. And some where in the sacristy, trapped in a ring of gold, is the Body of Christ, the miracle that results again and again from the Mass. The Processional is about to begin, and you know exactly what to do, feel the weight of two thousand years behind each simple ritual. You cannot imagine a time when this feeling of absolute purpose will leave you. You cannot imagine losing your faith. You cannot imagine the loneliness.

Copyright ) 1996 by A. Manette Ansay

What People are saying about this

Howard Frank Mosher
Sister is A. Manette Ansay's best work of fiction to date: highly original and entertaining, powerful, and told in a racy, distinctly American voice that harks back to Huck Finn's for its literary antecedants.
Kelly Cherry
Beautifully written and utterly absorbing, this is a novel to sink into as into thoughts for a hospitable armchair.
Ann Hood
Ansay writes with honest, insight, and great grace.

Meet the Author

A. Manette Ansay is the author of eight books, including Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Blue Water. She has received the Pushcart Prize, two Great Lakes Book Awards, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Miami.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Port Washington, Wisconsin; now lives in New York City
Date of Birth:
1964
Place of Birth:
Lapeer, Michigan
Education:
MFA, Cornell University, 1991

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Sister 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was simply 'OK'. I had high hopes for it after reading 'Midnight Champagne' which I thoroughly loved. I was somewhat disappointed. While I liked the idea, it seemed more like Abby was talking about her brother than herself, and thus: Why title it 'Sister'? It was a good read overall, but I doubt I'll be picking up again anytime soon--if at all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I¿m the sort of person that enjoys to read books about mysteries or love, so this book, Sister, wasn¿t really one that I cared for a lot. It¿s basically about a family where the parents have a ten-year age difference and have some conflicts with their parenting styles. The story is told through the eyes of the daughter, Abigail Schiller. Through out the book Abby tells about her life and all of the struggles she has to deal with. A major part of the book Abby talks about her brother Sam who is changed from an innocent, art loving child, to a delinquent boy, all because of her fathers harsh rules and punishments. As the story progresses it becomes more depressing and difficult to handle, and that¿s why I rated this book a six. Another reason why I gave it a six is because it¿s not a book that I would ever really want to read again because it was so sad. I enjoy happier books that have a sense of closure at the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
written so that the reader gets the feeling he is THERE, experiencing the very same things.....