By Danielle Schapaugh
I know a novelist who can take your heart places it never wanted to go, while still making you happy you took the journey.
The first book I read by Lori Lansens, simply called “The Girls,” is the story of conjoined twins, told alternately by each sister. As shocking and uncomfortable as the tale gets at times, detailing the struggles, heartaches, and yearnings of the two longest surviving craniopagus twins, Lansens never forgets to circle back to the joy of living. You’ll be hooked from the start. The book begins with a poem written by Rose, one of the sisters:
“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to the beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, buy oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.”
“The Wife’s Tale” features a minor character from “The Girls,” their neighbor, Mary Gooch. Mary is the depressed and morbidly obese wife of a gregarious high school football star. She is at the lowest point of her life when she is forced to confront her fears and begin an agonizing journey of self-discovery. This book is filled with so much awkwardness that it makes the entire tale feel like a big, cathartic release.
For example, at one point Mary steps on a shard of glass after locking herself out of the house, naked, in a thunderstorm and her body will not allow her to reach her foot to remove the glass or staunch the bleeding. You will breathe a giant sigh of relief when everything turns out ok. This story will remind you to be thankful for the little things that go right in your life, and thankful that the tale ends happily.
Lori has two more books, although I recommend taking a break rather than reading them back-to-back. As enjoyable as it is dive into these heartbreaking stories and discover new things about your inner world, devouring them back-to-back could be a little rough on your psyche. You might want to pause and read a little Jude Devereaux (romance) or maybe a book from the Agency series by Y.S. Lee (Y.A. mystery) before continuing.
When you’re ready, it’s time to read “Rush Home Road.” Images from this book will stay with you for the rest of your life. I still think about Mum Addy teaching Sharla how to clean out the bathtub or Sharla climbing up to steal cookies from the top shelf. This is actually Lansen’s first novel and tells the story of two women who become family. Sharla is a five-year-old who is abandoned at Addy’s trailer-park doorstep. Addy is a seventy year old woman who shut herself off from her past. Together, they provide the love and support each has needed in order to heal.
Lansens’ latest novel, “A Mountain Story” also carries the theme of personal discovery and healing, but this time with a heavy dose of adventure and suspense. A series of missteps strands a group of hikers together in the wilderness. They band together to survive, and as the story turns more desperate they form an inextricable bond.
Lansens’ writing transforms the scale of daily living and brings the small details into focus. You will not be able to tear your eyes away from the text and you’ll begin experiencing your days in more vivid detail. You can really taste that morning coffee, feel the humidity cling to your skin, pay attention to the way your feet slide in the bathtub. Lansens’ books have a wonderful, transformative power to make you stop and appreciate things. For that fact alone, I would recommend them. However, her books also give insight and empathy that help make the reader a better person. You should add them to your list immediately.