Edited by Drusilla Modjeska, Sisters brings together essays and stories by six prominent Australian writers: Dorothy Hewett and Elizabeth Jolley (who were born in the 1920s), Helen Garner and Drusilla Modjeska (born in the 1940s), and Beth Yahp and Gillian Mears (born in the 1960s).
All six have sisters, and their 'simple brief' was 'to write about the vexed relationship between sisters in any way, in any form, they liked: essay, fiction, autobiography'. Sisters is less a collection of case studies on the vexations of sisters than exercises in telling, and remembering.
" Sisters are not easy to write about. Consider Janet Frame's achievement in telling the story of the day her sister Merle drowned. That day, like so many others, Myrtle and Janet had quarrelled. Myrtle had wanted Janet to go to the baths with her, and on into town to look at the boys; Janet had wanted to stay at home with her lessons and her books. Myrtle accused her of being 'Dad's pet', and it was true, Janet curried favour where Myrtle flouted and rebelled, each defining the other against the definition made of herself in a complex dance of inclusion and exclusion. So Myrtle went to the baths that day with the other sister; and Janet was at home when the doctor called to tell their mother that Myrtle was dead."
Australian Book Review
Much is implied by the suggestive variations on the word vex, with its origins in the Latin word for jolt and its echoes of hex and vixen - witches, foxes, something female and hyper-natural wielding uncanny kinds of power, kin but other. The tension and intensity generated in and by all six of the pieces (even Jolley's, the gentlest and least equivocal) are sometimes frightening, and it's to do with the nature of the sister relationship, oxymoronic and inescapable. You are the same as and different from these creatures whom you love and hate and will never elude: 'women', as Garner puts it, 'for whom I have feelings so dark and strong that the word love is hopelessly inadequate...
'We scar easily', says Gillian Mears, 'and remember everything'.
One of Drusilla Modjeska's achievements in her various projects over the last ten years has been to develop ways of saying both of those things, both of those kinds of things, in, so to speak, the same sentence. Like each of her previous books, this one concerns itself with complex questions of language, gender and memory... Sisters constructs a heterogeneous readership with endless good and variant reasons for reading: an appetite for gossip or theory or story or style, or even just a desire for small particular illuminations of that dark mad camp, the family.
This fine anthology provides clues about 'the complicated, uneven tide of lived feeling' that leads sisters to 'rivalry and resentment, sensitivity to slights and differences, tears and tantrums, dreams and fantasies, and love as abiding as blood'.Editor Drusilla Modjeska and five other contributors - including Elizabeth Jolley and Dorothy Hewett -reflect on their female siblings in fiction and autobiography. Not all is sweetness and light. 'Sisters are good at punishment', warns Modjeska, 'and they have long memories.