I’ve been on a reading tear lately, thanks to the pandemic plus a heat wave and wildfire smoke. So what is the best thing to read in what feels like an apocalypse? How about a spooky Gothic novel? As a reader, I’ll admit I have a sweet tooth. Mysteries are my book dessert, the reading I end the day with, and a Gothic novel with its hints of fantasy, magical realism, and menace is the ultimate decadent dessert.
Daisy Johnson’s new novel, Sisters, was a delightful way to spend a 108-degree day. Two teenage sisters, named July and September, escape to a crumbling cottage on the coast of England to recover from Events. What were those Events is the heart of the mystery. Hints are dropped, the past is visited, nature is wild, and there’s even a mother who takes to her bed. What’s real and what’s not is always the question a Gothic novel asks, and never wants to answer.
What’s fresh about Sisters is how it feels timeless yet doesn’t fear the tacky conveniences of modern life. When is this happening, I wondered at the beginning of the book, so classic were the scenes and characters. But Daisy Johnson weaves in cell phones, the internet, and chat rooms, and gives them a twist. The sisters do some haunting of their own on the World Wide Web.
If you need to spend a day away but can’t get out, let Sisters take you away.
Sisters by Daisy Johnson. Riverhead Books, August 2020.
Reviewer bio: Hilary King is a poet living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, where she is reading and writing out the pandemic and wildfires.
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