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Sisters One, Two, Three: A Novel by Nancy Star


What inspired you to write Sisters One, Two, Three, a novel centering on the complex relationship between three sisters?

I’m fascinated by what goes on in families, in general, but you hit it on the head: I think sister relationships are often complex. Maybe it’s because sisters know each other so well; they know the best and the worst parts of each other. You can reinvent yourself completely to the outside world, but not to someone who’s known you since you split your Oreos and dunked them in milk together. And in families under stress, like the Tangles, the relationship among siblings can become even more complicated. Sometimes sisters form an exceptionally tight bond (which is what happens when you have common enemy) and sometimes the relationship turns prickly.

How does writing the story in two time periods add depth to the characters and plot?

In a way you can think of this as a “Before and After” novel. The Before part starts in 1972 when Ginger is 13, right before her family experiences an awful tragedy. The After part is when Ginger and her siblings are adults. By spending time with the family in both time periods we can see what everyone was like before tragedy struck and then how they all turned out. Readers may wonder, as I did when I wrote the novel: Did the catastrophe alter the course of all their lives? Or would some of them have grown up to be the same person even if it hadn’t happened? Some think yes, some think no!

Why do you choose to set the novel in Martha’s Vineyard?

I fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard years ago. On the one hand, it’s a regular place like any other; people who live on the island year-round face the same struggles and triumphs as the rest of us. But maybe because it’s an island, albeit forty-five minutes by ferry from the mainland of Massachusetts, or maybe because it’s unusually beautiful, for visitors and summer people there is a feeling of it being “far away” and magical. This was a perfect place for Glory to go because she’s desperately looking to find a way out of the humdrum. She believes going to Martha’s Vineyard for a month could be her salvation. For one thing, she might bump into the playwright Lillian Hellman, or Arthur Miller and her acting career could become real. As she says to her husband, “It could change my life, Solly, if we went to Martha’s Vineyard.” Of course, her life does change, but not at all in the way she’d expected.

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How does Glory’s decision to keep a secret affect her daughters’ parenting choices in the future?

Glory’s secret really puts a burden on her daughters. The atmosphere at home becomes more and more unsettled but the girls don’t understand why. They each deal with it differently, when they become mother’s themselves. Mimi, Ginger’s younger sister, keeps the unsettled feeling at bay by becoming phenomenally busy. She’s like a performer who spins plates in the air. So long as she’s busy she can avoid thinking about unpleasant things. Ginger reacts by becoming hyper-vigilant, super-alert to all the dangers in the world. Had Glory been honest with her daughters, they very well may have grown up feeling safe. Instead they grew up feeling at risk, and without knowing why. By the end of the novel, the sisters come to understand both the toxic power of secrets and the reason parents sometimes make surprising choices.

Sisters One, Two, Three

What personal advice are you able to share with moms who are trying to juggle the many demands of modern motherhood?

First, don’t sweat the small stuff. Kids grow up so fast and sweating the small stuff just steals time. Of course, easier said than done! Small stuff can feel really big in the moment! One thing that always helped me was reminding myself that everything is a stage. Whether it’s a hard stage or an easy stage, it will soon be replaced by another stage! So whenever possible, take the long view. Stay flexible. Love them with all your heart and build some fun memories together! The only other advice I have is to try and keep in mind that while being a mom is forever, the job of raising kids is temporary. The point is for them to grow up and have independent lives. This is another theme I explored in Sisters One, Two Three: how to let go.

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