The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis
Atlantic Monthly Press 2012
While every relationship forms a bond, there are some that possess a chemistry, a physical sharing of atoms that are immune to separation. The twin relationship is perhaps the best example of such a bond. Ask any twin about his or her mirror, and s/he will report a connection that borders on psychic. More than simply completing each others' sentences, twins have an awareness of each other even when physically separated. Hundreds of twin studies validate that there is a psychological link that is very distinct from other sibling relationships.
Now, take these scientific truths and have one twin contract a severe case of measles that results in brain damage. Have the healthy twin assume the roles of defender and caretaker. Now have the impaired twin drown. Zeke Cooper is the healthy twin in The Lost Saints of Tennessee. Breaking the twin bond tears out Zeke's ability to connect, to love. His relationship dependencies are clear: twin-twin > husband-wife > mother-son. Without the twin, the lower relationships fail.
This cathartic journey of family hardship begins in Clayton, Tennessee, the lower working class Southern town that barely manages indoor plumbing. Just about every significant emotional bond a person could have over the course of a lifetime is traversed: mother to son, husband to wife, wife to lover, brother to brother, brother to sister, father to daughter, ex-husband to ex-wife, ex to new interest and even man to dog. What Franklin-Willis provides that is a bit unusual is a late voice to the much-maligned mother of the twins. Just when I was ready to write Lillian off as a failed maternal figure, she is given the podium to share her own tragedies, those tragedies imperceptable to the maturing or even matured child. The retelling of Zeke and Lillian's failings and painful life events speak to the universality of suffering in relationships. These tragedies communicate the bonds that secure us all, the bonds that tie us down, and, ultimately the bonds that break.