I really like Julia Glass. I was blown away by Three Junes and though her second book, The Whole World Over, felt like an anti-climax, it was still prodigiously readable. I See You Everywhere falls somewhere between those two novels in its impact. I expected a lot, and Glass delivered … quite a bit.
The subject this time is a pair of sisters. I have sisters. I can relate. I’m pretty glad, though, not to have a sister like Clem. Louisa, the elder, is skeptical, verbal, reserved; Clem is a spunky femme fatale who leaves a trail of broken-hearted men. Louisa is an artist, a writer, a gallery owner: Clem’s wildlife-preservation career takes her to remote places all over the country. The story is narrated by the two sisters in turns, and this is where it’s faintly annoying. I can see that Glass might have felt this choice to be effective in describing the atmosphere of mutual incomprehension and distrust between the sisters, and it is that. But it feels slightly forced, as the differences between the sisters feel schematic. Yes, of course some families do peg their offspring in this way: the athetic one, the sedate one; the impulsive one, the rational one. And yes, Louisa and Clem’s parents are unflective enough to have made that error. It seems unsubtle, though. So does Glass’s habit of defining the women’s lives primarily through the men they’re with. In fact that’s the weakest point of the book. I realize novelists can’t fit everything in, and I realize that these women’s attitudes toward men are one of the dramatic differences between them. But I found this annoying. Unless I was supposed to grasp that the sisters’ bond was so close that they didn’t need female friends? No, I don’t think that’s it.
Bad things happen to them in the twenty-year scope of the book: accidents and cancer and a bad marriage and disillusionment. Louisa — perpetually the elder, more cautious, more sober — reflects toward the end that as you age, everyone begins to accumulate wounds, so that the outrage of youth (“How could this happen to me!”) becomes the rueful acceptance of middle age (“That’s the way it goes.”) There’s an important plot point that brings some gravity to the novel, and it is serious enough to cast its shadow back to the beginning. In many ways Glass is like a latter-day Laurie Colwin — a huge compliment — but she’s comfortable with a streak of melancholy and angst that Colwin usually avoided. She is also very good on animals. Much of I See You Everywhere concerns human relationships with wild creatures and Glass doesn’t shy away from the complexity of our attempts to preserve them.
I’m still not sure what I was meant to take away from this book. I’m not sure I know more about relationships than I did though I certainly know more about grizzly bears.