Books

'The Sisters Chase' Gives Us a Protagonist Worth Taking the Journey With

Sarah Healy's The Sisters Chase introduces a flawed heroine for the ages in its breezy, affecting narrative.


The Sisters Chase

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 304 pages
Author: Sarah Healy
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-06
Amazon

The Sisters Chase is one of the few books I’ve read that I actually wished were much, much longer. Clocking in at under 300 pages, The Sisters Chase whirls breathlessly through the story of Mary and Hannah Chase (nicknamed Bunny), a pair of sisters left to fend for themselves in the wake of their mother’s death.

Tracing their years-long journey along America's East Coast and across the country as they search for a place to settle, Sarah Healy’s new novel deftly captures a variety of locales and moods, from the New Jersey beachfront motel where the girls were born, to the swamps of Florida, where Mary takes them on a lark after their departure. Placing their constant roving in the context of storybook Princess tales and quests, the 18-year-old Mary determinedly cares for four-year-old Bunny to the best of her ability, even as she breaks promise after promise of stability and stasis.

Admittedly, it’s hard to resist comparing every recent charismatic and manipulative female protagonist to Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne (Fates and Furies’ Mathilde Satterwhite is another such example). Mary Chase, the compelling and enigmatic central figure of The Sisters Chase, has many of the qualities that made Amy (and Mathilde) such a memorable character -- calculating and cold, yet able to perfectly perform soft, pliant femininity; and above all, willing to lie, steal, cheat, and seduce her way into getting what she wants.

Yet the key difference that sets Mary apart from women like Amy and Mathilde is the purely altruistic core to nearly all of her actions: with one exception, every cruel move and betrayal Mary makes is to provide for and protect Bunny. The aforementioned exception is a simple and understandable one: Mary’s winding path with Bunny towards security and safety leads, at one point, back to the only man she ever loved, the heir to a Kennedy-esque clan she’d fallen for years prior. After all, for most of the story Mary is in her late teens and very early 20s, and despite her successful attempts at playing the role of a grown, sophisticated adult, she still holds dear the kind of grand romance found only in the fantastical stories she tells Bunny. Once a relationship fails to resume the way Mary hopes it will, her return to a purely transactional approach to love and intimacy is genuinely affecting. We as readers know, at this point, that she is capable of much deeper, honest, vulnerable feelings -- another contrast to Amy and Mathilde.

I mention the novel’s length because its more dramatic aspects could have been drawn out longer to maintain tension. A key move of Mary’s early in the novel is a sexual blackmailing scheme to provide her and her sister the cash necessary to set out on their own, yet her comeuppance comes far too quickly. In a longer story, perhaps, Mary’s sins would have bubbled up from beneath the surface of her life later in the narrative, perhaps around the time of the inevitable plot twist (which I won’t spoil here), leading to far greater catharsis. Instead, the proverbial hammers fall in a more measured way over the course of the novel, which undercuts a large part of the danger and suspense Mary’s furtive and often illicit actions cause.

Additionally, the mystery aspect of The Sisters Chase concerning the identity of Mary’s father, who stuck around long enough to seduce her mother and then left, is a little half-baked. In contrast to the bigger, bang-boom reveals of The Sisters Chase, the question of Mary’s father would have benefitted from more foreshadowing dotted quietly throughout the plot to stir up the reader’s interest and investment in the answer.

On a formal level, I have to wonder about the decision to frame the novel with imaginary letters from Bunny to Mary, as the bulk of the story takes place in the third person and centers on Mary. We only get to see Bunny herself through Mary’s eyes and through these epistolary bookends, which is not exactly satisfying. Mary Chase is entirely vivid and captivating, both in the world of The Sisters Chase and to the reader following her stories, yet Bunny only gets to speak for herself in these rather extraneous missives that amount to ten or so pages out of the whole book.

Ultimately, though, Mary herself, part sinner and part saint, makes The Sisters Chase worth the read, and worth the chase alongside the titular sisters.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Television

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.

Music

Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.

Music

Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.

Television

Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman
Music

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

Music

Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.

Music

The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.

Music

Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.

Books

The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.