Julia Glass' new novel, "I See You Everywhere" (Pantheon, 287 pages, $24.95), is decidedly lighter than her earlier books, including the National Book Award-winning "Three Junes."
Her new novel hopscotches through 25 years of vignettes, chronicling the relationship of sisters Lou and Clem Jardine.
The two are not much alike. Both are intelligent and well-educated, but Lou is pragmatic, cautious and conscientious, while Clem is wild and charming, the more emotional of the two, and her mother's favorite. Lou calls Clem "physically reckless, her all-or-nothing soul sealed tight in a cactus veneer."
Clem, of course, is the man-magnet. Although the sisters often compete with each other, they're also there for each other. As Lou says, they're not the best of friends, but they respect each other.
"Everywhere" reads like linked short stories trying to be a novel, with the theme of sibling rivalry driving each story. The sisters argue over boyfriends and husbands, and they bicker about which one Mom likes best. Usually readers identify with one character or another eventually, but in this book, neither character is terribly likable.
Unfortunately, just as we are beginning to understand and almost like the sisters, one dies. Her death comes with a jolt, with no foreshadowing and, afterward, no satisfying explanation.
Glass' writing is sensitive and lyrical, which saves the characters from becoming clichés. When Clem looks into her hospital bag of possessions, Glass writes, "Stowed there as well are my sister's secret longing, my father's fears ... so worthy it pains me. I close my eyes and relabel the bag: THINGS ENTRUSTED TO ME."
And Glass is sometimes funny; there are plays on the title, for instance. When Clem is in an intensive care unit: "ICU dumped me when I wasn't looking" and "ICU every time all hell breaks loose."
Still, the sisters can't fight their way out of a banal plot. Glass' book may not win any awards, but her fans will probably enjoy it.
Joseph Peschel is a writer and book reviewer in South Dakota.