The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay: Fiction by Beverly Jensen | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay

4.4 18
by Beverly Jensen

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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


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.

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

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.42(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.08(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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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