Two sisters discover what’s truly worth living for in the new novel by the author of MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD.
TWO SISTERS: Kate is bound for Stanford and an M.D. — if her family will let her go. Mary wants only to stay home and paint. When their loving but repressive father dies, they must figure out how to support themselves and their mother, who is in a permanent vegetative state, and how to get along in all their uneasy sisterhood.
THREE YOUNG MEN: Then three men sway their lives: Kate’s boyfriend Simon offers to marry her, providing much-needed stability. Mary is drawn to Marcos, though she fears his violent past. And Andy tempts Kate with more than romance, recognizing her ambition because it matches his own.
ONE AGONIZING CHOICE: Kate and Mary each find new possibilities and darknesses in their sudden freedom. But it’s Mama’s life that might divide them for good — the question of *if* she lives, and what’s worth living for.
Discovery: I haven’t read any of Stork’s previous novels, but this story of sisterhood hooked me from the first line of the premise.
+ Themes. As the older child in my family AND a former med school applicant, I was immediately interested in Kate’s story. I didn’t expect her to be exactly like me, and I was especially eager to see what her relationship with Mary was like. (I only have one younger brother.) The story revolves around family and the choices we make because of how we see them in our lives. My admiration for this theme mostly comes from my own position in life right now: I’m an adult, but I’m still very much attached to my family. When and how does one separate oneself from family? How do you know if it’s the right time? And what kind of person will you be without them?
– Writing style. Irises was a challenging book to read, mostly because I was never quite sure what it was supposed to be about. Kate and Mary never seemed real or fully-formed to me. I couldn’t pinpoint where the book was set, except somewhere in the southern United States. (I can’t be too sure about this, though, since Kate and Mary talk about Stanford as though it’s hundreds of thousands of miles away.) This distance made it difficult to enter the world of the story.
Mama Romero is meant to be a shadow over Kate and Mary’s lives, and when their father dies, her continued “existence” seems to overpower the girls. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sold on it. The girls say they love their mother, but I never felt that love from them. I also wish we knew more about Papa Romero. What kind of person was he? The story ends without any sort of solid evidence that he was a good/bad father. In that same vein, I wanted to sympathize with Kate and Mary, but how does one sympathize with characters that don’t seem like they really care? Both the girls are prickly and put up walls so quickly that the reader could get whiplash. The way they talk and act is dated, but there is no indication that the story is set anywhere but the present.
Overall, I don’t feel like I was told enough to develop an emotional investment in the story. I felt like I was watching a vague art film, and that Kate and Mary’s lives had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was disappointed by that, because I was so interested in Kate and her dream of becoming a doctor. Sadly, that determination and intelligence wasn’t manifested in the story.
– Pacing. After careful thought, I’ve come to believe that the pacing may have contributed to my disconnection with the book. There are gorgeous lines to be sure, and I found myself on the edge of falling in love with the text many times, but it never really carried through. It’s almost as if Stork is trying to intrigue his reader through telling them as little as possible and zooming past important conversations. Every time I wanted to know more, I would get less than a page of pertinent information. Every time I wanted the story to go faster, I would get an entire chapter of meandering text. Neither of these things are awful, but it does make a story more difficult to read, especially when there is a lack of emotional connection between the reader and the story.
The final say: While Irises may not have gotten much love from me upon the first reading, I’m looking forward to reading it again. It reminded me of other books that I wasn’t too keen about on the first try, but fell in love with upon subsequent rereads.
Be sure to visit Francisco Stork at his website.