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The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay

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A tale of two sisters over seventy years that recovers the vibrant and unforgettable voice of Beverly Jensen

In 1916, Idella and Avis Hillock live on the edge of a chilly bluff in New Brunswick-a hardscrabble world of potato farms and lobster traps, rough men, hard work, and baffling beauty. From "Gone," the heartbreaking story of their mother's medical crisis in childbirth, to the darkly comic "Wake," which follows the grown siblings' catastrophic efforts to escort their ...

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The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay: Fiction

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Overview

A tale of two sisters over seventy years that recovers the vibrant and unforgettable voice of Beverly Jensen

In 1916, Idella and Avis Hillock live on the edge of a chilly bluff in New Brunswick-a hardscrabble world of potato farms and lobster traps, rough men, hard work, and baffling beauty. From "Gone," the heartbreaking story of their mother's medical crisis in childbirth, to the darkly comic "Wake," which follows the grown siblings' catastrophic efforts to escort their father, "Wild Bill" Hillock's body to his funeral, the stories of Idella and Avis offer a compelling and wry vision of two remarkable women. The vivid cast includes Idella's philandering husband Edward, her bewilderingly difficult mother-in-law- and Avis, whose serial romantic disasters never quell her irrepressible spirit. Jensen's work evokes a time gone by and reads like an instant American classic.

Beverly Jensen died of cancer at the age of forty-nine without publishing her work. Since her death, her fiction has been championed by a dedicated group of supporters, including Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The title of Jensen’s posthumous debut adequately sums up its tone and economic milieu. Spanning the years 1916 to 1987, the novel offers vignettes from the lives of sisters Idella and Avis Hillock, opening with an account of their mother’s death in childbirth and closing with Idella’s husband, Eddie, now an old man, reminiscing about his life with Idella. The Hillock girls spent their early years in the rough landscape of New Brunswick, Canada, where grief and hard living have damaged their widowed father. Eventually, Idella escapes to New England, where she finds a husband and her own domestic troubles. Younger, more attractive sister Avis has an even harder path ahead; after attracting the ardor of her father’s friends as a teen, she embarks on a series of damaging romantic entanglements. This has an unfinished feel to it (Jensen died unpublished in 2003), and while the sisters’ troubled relationship rings true, the story-like chapters feel quite independent of one another, and the dialogue has a tendency to veer into forced colloquialisms and melodrama. Readers will be left wondering what else Jensen might have written had her career not been cut short. (July)
Library Journal
This novel opens in remote New Brunswick in the early 20th century, at a farm situated along a seaside cliff. Idella and Avis Hillock live there with their parents and older brother, but when their lovely mother dies giving birth to baby sister Emma, the household becomes forlorn. Tended to by rough French-speaking girls from the country and shipped off to relatives in Maine when their sometimes violent father can't cope, they struggle to adulthood. The harsh life and times of the sisters is presented in sharp detail through their own eyes, with issues of class and gender revealed along the way. VERDICT From their rocky beginnings through their father's death and their own old age in 1986, the sisters' tale remains compelling. Jensen, who died before she could publish, has since been championed by Joyce Carol Oates. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/10.]—Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA
Kirkus Reviews
Published posthumously, Jenson's debut is a rich cycle-of-life narrative about the title's two Canadian sisters, who grow up in rural poverty and make their way in the world, remaining close despite differences in disposition and ambition. Della Hillock and her wilder younger sister Avis spend their early childhood on a New Brunswick farm with their father, whom they call Dad, and older brother Dalton. Although he can turn mean when he's drinking, Dad tries to do right by his kids after the death of his wife in 1916. When the (perhaps too) appealing but troubled French Canadian girl he's hired to care for the girls doesn't work out, he sends them to relatives in Maine to be educated. But when he's seriously injured in 1921, the girl must return to care for him. Della, who is the hard worker, chafes at the responsibilities she carries and feels jealous of the more carefree Avis, who drinks and carouses with Dad. Both sibling rivalry and camaraderie is expressed in small, jewel-like moments-picking blueberries, fighting over a dress. Before she's 20, Della escapes again to the States and works as a domestic servant until she meets Eddie, who will become her husband. While focusing on her women characters, Jenson is generous with her men as well. Eddie is a painfully complex man, a devoted if resentful son of a crazy mother who grows into a devoted if adulterous husband. Meanwhile, Avis ends up in the States too but never quite settles down. She spends time in prison for borderline prostitution, drinks heavily and goes through one man after another while working as a hairdresser. But Della is no prude, and Avis has delicate sensibilities. When Dad dies in 1966, Avis and Dalton, now an alcoholic, arrive with the body just in time for the kind of family send-off their father would have loved. Straightforward yet lyric prose and an eye for the crucial detail bring the Hillocks' world vividly to life.
Richard Russo
Beverly Jensen's book The Sisters From Hardscrabble Bay may be a collection of stories, but thanks to its chronological sweep…its multiple settings…and a good half-dozen of the richest fictional characters I've encountered anywhere, the book delivers the emotional rush of a novel, indeed of a great novel. Of course, when a book is this satisfying, it probably doesn't matter what we call it, only that we have it, although in this case, sadly, we'll never have another. Jensen died of cancer in 2003, before any of her stories made it into print. In fact, it's not clear she intended for them to be published, which may explain their remarkable intimacy and unflinching honesty.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670021666
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/24/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.42 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Beverly Jensen earned an MFA in drama from Southern Methodist University. After her death in 2003, her story “Wake” was published in the New England Review, included in The Best American Short Stories 2007, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is survived by her husband, Jay Silverman, and their two children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2010

    Fascinating structure - short stories that read like a novel

    Truly enjoyed this well crafted book. Short stories that stand alone and also somehow fit together like a well crafted novel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    unexpected delight

    I am an AVID book on cd (actually IPod) reader/listener and hear 1 - 2 books a week, and I belong to a book club, and I preface this way so you know I read a LOT and hear a LOT about good books. I stumbled across this book and took a shot -- lucky me!! Terrifically interesting characters!! I cared about all of them, flaws and all! A great read!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2010

    don't miss this insightful view of the human condition

    an engaging and delightful read, held one's interest to the final period

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2013

    Excellent.

    Just finished this in hardback. Very interesting characters. A+++ job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012

    House 6

    Open

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2011

    Highly recommend to any Mainiac....

    Terrific book....

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  • Posted September 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent read!

    The characters in this novel are multi-faceted. They aren't without flaws, but you will find something in each of them to appreciate. I didn't want to put it down! I finished it quickly and was left wanting more. Idella is such a strong character! Her life isn't always easy, but she handles it like a lady. The book is supposedly composed of short stories, but it reads like a novel. because the stories involve the same family of characters. I'm not a fan of short stories so I'm glad that it didn't read like that kind of book. I'm so sorry that Beverly Jensen passed before she saw her book in print.

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    Posted March 1, 2011

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    Posted July 26, 2010

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    Posted October 2, 2010

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    Posted December 7, 2011

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    Posted October 14, 2011

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    Posted November 28, 2010

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