The Chase girls were always happiest in those brief moments of in-between, when neither of them was sacrificing, neither of them being sacrificed.
When their mother dies, the Chase girls are on their own and homeless, with fiercely protective Mary at the helm. The Sisters Chase unfolds over the following ten years as Mary and Hannah (“Bunny”) crisscross the country as nomads, never staying long enough for people to start asking questions, never staying long enough to have to answer for the lengths Mary will go to protect Hannah and her own heart.
Sitting and Stewing
When I finished this book, I commented on Instagram that I thought I would like it more the longer it sat with me. I agree with this original assessment…I still can’t put my finger on what exactly it is about the book and the characters, but the longer it stews, the better I think it is. I find that a mark of a book that resonates is often the author’s ability to make me care about and empathize with someone unlike me. Perhaps this is it—perhaps Mary and the mark she leaves behind is what has made The Sister’s Chase a book that sticks to the bones—nourishment for the reader soul.
Indeed, the title may be the The Sisters Chase but the action is driven by the eldest sister Mary—complicated, fierce, feral Mary. Mary is, above almost all else, a master manipulator—reading people quickly (especially men) and using her beauty to get her way. She’s simultaneously impressive and, frankly, a little scary—not quite Amy in Gone Girl scary, but you can see how she’d get there, if protecting her Bunny, her younger sister Hannah, required it. Because she manipulates anyone and everyone around her, from strangers to her own mother, it’s initially hard to pick up that the one person she won’t manipulate is her sister, Hannah. She manipulates for Hannah, but never manipulates her.
Nature vs. Nurture
The range of tiny, daily manipulations of Mary’s life to her more extreme, long-game manipulations left me debating the question throughout the book of nature versus nurture. How much of Mary’s devotion and dedication to her sister above all else could be explained by nature and biology and how much of it was their mother responsible for? Her mother became pregnant with Mary far too young and, with the realities of working two jobs to provide for the family, was little able to supervise, leaving Mary to raise and tame herself.
As a result, Mary is ill-suited to modern society, better able to survive as a nomad, camping and living in swamps and on beaches, without others. Perhaps the sisters were doomed from the start, headed for tragedy, for how could someone as feral as Mary ever live domesticated, even where Hannah was involved? And if this is true—was Mary doomed by biology or a mother who didn’t have sufficient time to tame her?
While I can get gushy over lush descriptions, I also appreciate more spare descriptions when they’re accurate and apt. The writing and word choice in The Sisters Chase fit the story. Healy’s prose is straightforward and un-flowery, befitting a story of two girls constantly on the move, leaving behind everything that doesn’t fit into their knapsacks. Healy does occasionally stray into cliché and does have one moment where an overweight woman is compared to a walrus (too far in my opinion) but these transgressions are rare and the book is otherwise tightly crafted.
The Sisters Chase as a whole skews a rather dark—this is not a fluffy read that sits well. I will give a moderate trigger warning for adultery—if you are very sensitive to that particularl plot line, while it is small in this book, it features prominently in one section and this is a book you should skip.
The Sisters Chase is solidly written lit-fic, though not one that shows off in the vein of Exit West or The Heart. While she does have redeeming qualities, Mary is the type of character that can be deeply unlikeable. As you know from the first page, by the end of the book, Mary is no longer in the picture—if you require a book with happy endings, this is not that book. Indeed, the tragedy of the last two chapters is that I kept thinking that the book didn’t need to end this way. Any small number of things could have changed and this book could have ended happily. Or maybe it never could—maybe Mary was fated for unhappiness from the beginning.
Published: June 27, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (@hmhbooks)
Author: Sarah Healy (@healyesarah)
Date read: June 30, 2017
Rating: 3 ½ Stars
Source: Book of the Month
Notable Reviews: The New York Times