Eve Chase Plumbs the Depths of Sisterly Bonds | LibraryReads Author

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In Eve Chase’s sparkling new work, The Wildling Sisters, Jessie finds a glorious old house in the Cotswolds where she can raise her toddler daughter and troubled teenage stepdaughter with fresh abandon. But moving there connects her with the sorrowful history of Applecote Manor’s previous inhabitants, and Chase unfolds the stories of both families in a narrative that’s as pristine as it’s capaciously ­layered.

The narrative centers on the four Wilde sisters, fondly dubbed the Wildlings by their overblown uncle, who spend a significant summer at Applecote with their uncle and aunt five years after the disappearance of their vivacious cousin, Audrey. Gorgeous Flora, sturdy Pam, little sister Dot, and Margot, the thoughtful first-person narrator of the siblings’ story, are enviably close. Chase, who always wanted sisters herself, hoped to explore “that wonderful tightness and bond,” which she sees as unique. “They would literally do anything to help each other,” she said in a phone interview with LJ, “which you don’t get anywhere else.”

The girls’ relationship is sorely tested that summer owing to events precipitated by the appearance of charming if arrogant neighbor Harry and a friend, but it doesn’t shatter. “It’s a shared history, a shared secret,” Chase says of their resilience. “If you’re young and something traumatic happens, you can spin apart or stick together.”

Meanwhile, with Aunt Sibyl hovering but not entirely connecting, the sisters luxuriate in their freedom, even as they quietly miss their unconventional mother. “What interested me is what happens when you take parenting away,” explains Chase. Typical teenagers, the sisters both do and don’t want that parental presence, something Jessie must contend with in the parallel contemporary story. Stepdaughter Bella, mourning her mother’s death, powerfully resists Jessie, who knows she can never be a substitute. “Is it blood? Is it genes?” muses Chase of family, ultimately showing us that it’s something more as Jessie works her way toward an understanding with Bella.

Significantly, a half century separates the sisters’ fateful summer at Applecote in 1959 and Jessie’s move with her family to the Cotswolds. That gap allowed Chase to explore mores in two very different eras close enough that some of the original characters are still alive. In addition, she confesses a fascination with the 1950s, both “the romance of it” and the distanced feeling of a time “before the youth-quake of the Sixties,” when women were more restricted. That makes the contemporary contrast provided by Jessie’s story all the more potent.

If the sisters miss Audrey, they also mourn their father’s death, which affects Margot particularly, and Bella misses her mother as much as Sibyl misses her daughter. Yet the novel isn’t about grieving. “I wasn’t so much interested in grief itself as in the process of grief and how it affects people in different ways,” clarifies Chase. We see, for instance, how Margot matures and how Sibyl copes through denial, expecting Audrey to return. And though we don’t directly meet Audrey, we know her intimately, as Chase leads us to understand why the sisters loved her so much.

Finally, there’s Applecote Manor itself, inspired by the creamy-stoned houses of the Cotswolds, particularly William ­Morris’s Kelmscott Manor. “They just have this wonderful quintessential Englishness,” enthuses Chase, “and I wanted to contrast their romance and beauty with the violence of the story.” Such houses fascinate partly for their huge scale (“they put us in our place”) and partly for the history they contain. “If only the walls could talk!” cries Chase. With Applecote as setting, she’s written a story that speaks to us all.—Barbara Hoffert

Created by a group of librarians, LibraryReads offers a monthly list of ten current titles culled from nominations made by librarians nationwide as their favorites. See the July 2017 list at ow.ly/bpGw30cIN17 and contact libraryreads.org/for-library-staff/
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This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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