Book Quote:

“You can be smart and doomed all the same.”

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew (JUL 14, 2009)

Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award for Three Junes, now brings us I See You Everywhere, the bursting-at-the-seams account of Louisa and Clem Jardine, two sisters who march down different paths. The novel spans 1980 – 2005 and generally alternates between the sister’s voices, both beginning and ending the rich novel from Louisa’s perspective.

Louisa has four years on Clem (short for Clement, not Clementine) and in the opening chapter she, Louisa, is 24. She travels from Santa Barbara to Winooski, Vermont where the family will gather in the wake of Great Aunt Lucy’s death. Clem had been staying with Lucy and the two siblings catch up. It being summer, they find time to sun themselves at a gorge. But when she goes into the river, Louisa becomes overwhelmed by the current. Clem, nature lover she is, commands her older sister to swim to the middle and out of danger. When she is safely back on shore Clem kids her, ” ‘I always knew you were a weakling.’ ”

Actually, Clem was the child who needed special nurturing to grow. May Jardine, the girls’ mother, who is a master of foxhounds on Pemiquisset Point, Rhode Island, never let any of her hound litter runts die even though her husband reminded her she was bucking nature. So, of course, she went all out for Clem. In young adulthood Louisa has this take on her runt sister, “I still want to be the benevolent tyrant. I want to outshine her, I want to be the wiser, the smarter, the better loved, but I want to keep an eye on her. She is after all, irreplaceable.”

Louisa is the artistic, literary sibling. She gravitates from kilning pottery on the West Coast after college to settling in New York City and gradually establishing herself at the magazine, Art Beat. Clem is irresistibly drawn to nature and becomes a degreed biologist working in extinction management. One year she is in Labrador with the seals. Others find her in Brazil, California, or Alaska. Or Wyoming, where she studies bears in 1993,

Despite their proclaimed differences on a personal level too — Clem isn’t the marrying kind; Louisa is — they both exhibit a restlessness of spirit and commitment. Over the twenty-five years covered in I See You Everywhere, each goes through at least six romantic relationships. Clem gets pregnant at least twice but doesn’t choose to go to full term. Louisa says she wants her own, yet after five years of marriage to her first husband, Hugh, her mother wants to know what she is waiting for, and Louisa has no reply. Then breast cancer chemo closes Louisa’s window of opportunity for giving birth.

I See You Everywhere is a vividly written book about these two sisters whose lives necessarily, gradually, spiral apart, but it is also a somber rumination on the will and ability to live and produce a viable next generation. When Clem works with Game and Fish in 1993, she becomes attached to a wild bear cub, Buzz, who has a bad ticker. She successfully presses for intervention: he will be taken from his mother and sister and operated on. Perhaps this “runt” can be saved, even though it goes against nature. Clem, who has been in in multiple near-fatal accidents (in 1990, when she barely survived a boating smash-up, her father pleaded with her not to put him and her mother through such agony again), invests herself deeply in the hope for Buzz’s survival. What happens to Buzz — and then what Clem does — has convulsive impact. Clem shocks everyone and provokes profound questions as the sisters, their relationship, and their parents, are forever changed.

Both sisters at different points in the novel tell of the “fox” hunt that their mother still leads. These days “at Figtree the hounds never taste blood…it’s a drag hunt — someone goes out and lays a phony trail by dragging a mop soaked in fox urine and a lot of secret odious dilutants through the countryside.” More humane to be sure and therefore desirable. Still, this ersatz ritual hunt is now merely a hollow event. The “life” in it has been extracted for modern sensibilities. In a way then it serves as a symbol of a waning biological imperative in our contemporary society. Somehow, both Clem and Louisa, for different reasons, also follow the modern trend of increasingly non-reproducing people. Small wonder their parents ultimately withdraw their hopes and dreams for grandchildren and concentrate on a hollow but busily “happy” present for themselves.

Runts, misfits, nature’s “mistakes” — be they puppies, Buzz, or Clem — run the risk of living on borrowed time. Once Clem said to Louisa, “You can’t predict what lasts.” But in a way, I See You Everywhere intimates that one can predict because in the natural scheme of things, some living things are marked as not “belonging.” Darwin’s theory of natural selection at work, so to speak.

Louisa’s viewpoint, as mentioned before, closes out I See You Everywhere. It is 2005, and she, now married again and contenting herself with stepchildren, is reading some old letters of Clem’s. Afterward, she muses, “No one belongs to us, and we belong to no one….This should free us, but it never quite does.” Louisa, now nearly at the half century mark, has struggled to make sense of that huge, inexplicable something her “irreplaceable” sister did in 1993. All these years she’s hoped for answers, but now she realizes simply, but still rather emptily, that she must make what sense she can for herself, and all she can really conclude is: “the last word is mine, and it is a gift.”

I See You Everywhere is full of sensualist detail, but it is a thinking person’s book too. Despite the density of the writing that demands reader persistence, the bewildering sets of supporting characters that change in each chapter, and the sometimes devastating subject matter, it is recommended reading.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 86 readers
PUBLISHER: Anchor; 1 edition (July 14, 2009)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Julia Glass
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

More fiction on sisters…


July 14, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, Reading Guide, y Award Winning Author

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.