Friday, March 7, 2014

Twisted Sisters

Jen Lancaster’s Twisted Sisters focuses on Reagan Bishop, a thirty-something licensed psychologist starring in a self-help type reality show called “I Need A Push.” As a pusher Reagan is one of the show’s lead psychologist focused on helping her TV patients undergo a multi-layered transformation which includes helping them to address the problems in their lives and thereby overcoming those challenges followed by a fancy haircut, frosted tips and a snazzy new dress or suit to go with their new attitudes.

On a personal level Reagan is an overachiever, a pescatarian, a marathon runner, a snob and an overall uptight stick in the mud with a smug air of superiority over her immeasurably flawed sisters, Mary Mac and Geri. While Mary Mac (short for Mary Magdalene), a stay at home mom with more kids than Reagan can count (“she’s a hoarder, only for children”) is a thorn in Reagan’s side, her true nemesis is baby sister Geri, a certified cosmetologist. Geri is responsible for every wrong done against mankind (at least according to Reagan) and the bane of her childhood existence; from stealing her beloved Cabbage Patch doll, Lillian Lizabeth, to stealing her darn ham sandwich (Reagan has real doubts about her supposed peanut allergy).

Despite the struggles of trying to fit in with her oh so middle class family that all live in a blue-collar neighborhood a couple doors from one another, life is good for Reagan that is until her show is bought by a national network and the egotistical, albeit outdoorsy and gorgeous, head honcho starts ratcheting up the pressure for better ratings. Desperate to make the show a success especially after some early bumps in the road, Reagan turns to Deva, her friend and the show’s New Age healer for an unconventional (and slightly unethical) solution; one that might not only guarantee her success but might also help her teach her sisters (“the octomom and freeloader”) a well-deserved lesson, though when all is said and done, it just might be Reagan who gets schooled.

I went into this book very gung-ho, don’t ask me why because I’ve never read this author before, but I’d heard good things about her prior books, including plenty of kudos on her humor and wit. Unfortunately, while the book was relatively funny it was also a little slow paced, the premise farfetched, and the main character completely unlikeable. While the subject of sibling rivalry is a figurative minefield to navigate since it can drum up a plethora of sentiments by all involved, in a different author’s hands it could’ve also been a goldmine of humor and heart; sadly, Lancaster under delivers on both counts.

By far, I’d have to say the biggest negative of Twisted Sisters is its protagonist, Reagan. I can get over the pace (not every book is a page-turner) and the slightly out there twist in the book (I’ve read other books with paranormal-type narratives), but there’s no saving grace when you so dislike a character that you become indifferent to their ultimate success or failure in the story arc (a sure kiss of death). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of books where the protagonist isn’t likable and some that were downright detestable, but normally there’s been enough depth to that main character (the whys or driving forces behind his/her actions) or great supporting characters to champion in the tale to still make the story compelling and keep me engaged as a reader.

Sure Reagan was funny, but every bit of humor came at someone’s expense, like calling her sister Geri the “Stay Puft Marshmallow Sis” (funny but mean). Reagan was pretentious and snarky and discounted anything her sisters or anyone else did; their efforts, their successes, their burdens held no value. It was all about her; 24/7. I’m sure I’m not surprising anyone in saying that she does finally learn her lesson, but when she does there’s very little reward as a reader because you’re just like, who cares. Also, since Lancaster covers the sisters so minimally in the narrative it’s not like we have another go-to source to give us a rooting interest.

I do realize though that how you feel about the book might in part depend on what you bring to it as an individual. You might have a horrible sibling relationship that leads you to commiserate with Reagan and instead of her character being a turn-off, you’d be like - yeah I get her, that is so my sister or brother. I know that the sibling dynamic is different in every family, but having a crappy sibling is no excuse to take your ire out on the world. As a sibling myself (I’m one of 3) I never forget that my brothers and I are part of one another; we share memories and experiences, both good and bad, that no one else does. Of course, it wasn't all kumbaya moments growing up; we fought, felt slighted or jealous, and threw around more than a few "i hate yous" at one another every once in a while, but I loved my brothers then and now and coming from a good place maybe that's why I just couldn't connect with Reagan.

Twisted Sisters humor is the only redeeming factor in this otherwise contrived dud, where the protagonist's own transformation is too little, too late; so overall I’d say skip it and instead look for another of Lancaster’s novels.