Gwendolen Gross Talks Sisterhood and The Orphan Sister
Today author Gwendolen Gross shares a behind the scenes look at her new mainstream novel, The Orphan Sister. Learn how this author's experiences and the love she shares with her siblings influenced her latest novel. And don't be surprised when this guest blog post brings tears to your eyes!
In one of my graduate school workshops, a terrific fellow from Brooklyn kept telling me, “You are clearly obsessed with da fatha, da son, da holy ghost. Always one in three!” His accent made me giggle, but he was wrong. Yes—I write quite a lot about threes, but I’m one of three sisters. And I’m Jewish.
Writing The Orphan Sister was easy, in some ways—the truths of sisterhood run like arteries through life, whether you have one sister, three sisters, no sisters. In fact, I have two sisters from one family, and another who is technically my half-sister, and a step-brother, though he may not be ushered to the fore at the flock of girls, but we used to run down mountains holding hands, so he’s very much a part of my fictional narrative, and personal history, too.
There are many ideas about birth order—and I suppose I’m technically the middle child, the peace-maker, the one who wants everything to be alright. But who doesn’t want everything to be alright? Let me know if first children are war-mongers or last children prefer bickering, because I haven’t seen it like that. But I’m also an oldest in some ways, having lived with that step-brother for a while as a fourteen year old to his four. And then there’s the youngest, Samantha, who is twenty years younger than I am. In many ways, she was the model for my character Clementine’s feelings about Adam, her first nephew (and she caught that right away when she read the book). The first baby with whom I fell in love. I carried her in a snuggly and people asked whether she was my first—I was twenty, after all. I said no, I have two other sisters. But in some ways, she was a first—first chance to love a baby so much it hurt my body, arms bruised with the longing to hold, when I left to return to college, and then to fly cross-country when she was older. I missed her physically, the way you miss your own babies. But also the way you miss sisters.
My oldest sister, Claudia, taught me to read. I think she taught me to knit (though I’m sure Mom helped) because I have a weird combination style born of my sister’s left-handedness. Apparently, we tried to off each other during the youngest years, but I don’t remember that, I just remember that she was respite during parental storms, that I wanted to be like her, that I loved being her voice when she was too shy to ask the ice cream man for a fudgesicle. That my son smells like her in the mornings—that sometimes when I’m looking at him I see her, my first guide. My younger sister, Rebecca, was a wild thing when she was little—all frenetic naked energy and bright blue eyes. But as adults we’ve bonded over the mothering of boys.
Children have so little power, despite having much freedom. Everyone adult tells us what to do, what we can eat, where we are allowed to go. Sisters (and I mean this both specifically and metaphorically) can hold our hands to cross the street.
- Gwendolen Gross