Idella and Avis are The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay; the girls learned early on to fend for themselves. In 1916, their family is barely scraping out a living on a rocky potato farm in New Brunswick, when their mother unexpectantly dies in childbirth. The girls, ages seven and five, are left in the care of an overwhelmed father who turns to alcohol for comfort. Though Dad tries to create a semblance of normalcy by hiring a series of French Canadian housegirls, none stay for long, and after a few years, he ships the girls across the border for a short stay at a boarding school in Maine.
Idella grows up to be the responsible older sister — always caring for someone. First, it’s for her father, after he is accidentally shot when hunting deer out of season; later, she cares for her very contrary mother-in-law. On the other hand, Avis is the wild one — a free spirit who likes to drink and who runs through men, but often pays painful consequences for her impulsive choices, including a stint in prison. Still, all is not heartbreak in this story of family ties and remarkable resilience — there are equal doses of humor and hilarity as well.
What I found most intriguing about this book is that the author, Beverly Jensen, died of pancreatic cancer in 2003, never having published a word of her writing. So how did this book come to be? Well, a group of supporters gathered around her work, initially getting one of the chapters of this book published as an award-winning short story. Amazingly, the stories all fit together with convicing continuity and the author’s voice comes through loud and clear, even beyond the grave. Every writer should have such friends.