10 December 2020

Her by Christa Parravani

Many years ago my friend Katie mentioned this memoir to me and I bought it solely off her recommendation. Katie has always chosen really interesting books, especially nonfiction ones, so I often find myself writing titles down whenever we would hang out. Katie got me addicted to Everest, if that's any indications of her sway on my reading material. 

After five years of this book sitting on my shelf, I finally picked it up after watching the miniseries I Know This Much Is True directed by Derek Cianfrance and starring Mark Ruffalo as identical twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. The miniseries is based on a novel of the same name by Wally Lamb and is outrageously depressing. One of the twins is severely mentally ill, but both experience relentless and unspeakable trauma. While I found the show physically/emotionally draining to watch, it definitely had me fascinated with identical twins. I was hoping Christa Parranvani's memoir Her would give me more background.

Her is around 300 pages and is the account of Parranvani's experience losing her identical twin sister Cara. The twins grew up incredibly close and spent their twenties and early thirties constantly in each other's lives. They are both interested in the arts and pursued careers in photography and writing. Both sisters get married, get divorced, and experiment with prescription pills. Their relationship never seems super healthy, probably because they are the definition of codependent. 

The egg that splits becomes dominant; it drains more of the shared placenta, requires more space in the womb. One twin grows larger and stronger at the expense of the other. This twin is always bigger at birth. The twin who makes herself out of her sister must do so by nearly killing off that sister. Cara outweighed me by a pound; she'd begun her hungry taking, her killing of me, from the very start." 

a portrait of Cara and Christa Parravani by Christa

Years into their marriages, Cara is violently assaulted and raped near her home while walking her dog in the woods. The description is really disturbing and Parravani details how painful the recovery process was for her sister. Cara begins to use heroin and even after years of therapy and even rehab, she overdoses and dies. 

From here on the memoir is about Christa's unique experience grieving her identical twin. She mentioned how difficult it was looking in the mirror and seeing her reflection as her sister Cara. She also talked about how their resemblance would make people so uncomfortable at the funeral and in the recent months after Cara's death. I found this really interesting and equally heartbreaking. 

It is impossible for surviving twins to differentiate their living body from their twin's; they become a breathing memorial for their lost half." 

Christa also used a lot of passages from her twin's diary and computer notes. These passages were always marked in italics and sort of melded the two sisters' perspectives into one book. Cara's writing is more flowery and seems like more of an MFA project, but they do help represent her emotional state during the time periods Christa covers. 

Overall I wouldn't say I really enjoyed this memoir. I do think it is a very sad (and interesting) situation, but I found the way Christa dealt with grief to be so completely different to how I approach things that I didn't really take a lot away from her memoir. I know the whole point of reading is to experience different worlds/perspectives/characters/etc, but for some reason this just wasn't clicking with me. There is an entire chapter that is just a back-and-forth between Christa and a psychic - who she takes seriously. 

1 comment:

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