The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay
Beverly Jensen’s The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay is an engaging series of stories chronicling the lives of the Hillock sisters, Idella and Avis, as they make their way from the harsh landscape of New Brunswick, Canada to the slightly more civilized cities of post WWI New England.
Idella and Avis Hillock are eight and six years old respectively, when their mother dies during childbirth. After a tumultuous two years spent trying to raise the girls, their father Bill, a hard-drinking potato farmer, sends them to live with a relative in Maine. The girls enjoy life in the States, however, their reprieve is short lived as they are called back to care for their father who has been injured in a hunting accident. Eventually, with their father’s help, they make it out of New Brunswick with Idella settling in Maine and Avis in Boston.
The book is written in four parts and includes a number of standout chapters which serve to highlight the milestones in the girl’s lives. Beginning with a Chapter entitled “Gone,” which recounts the death of the girl’s mother and ending with “The Wake,”The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay details in often hilarious prose, the paths that these two very different sisters take.
Jensen has done a superb job filling out the personalities of the sisters as well as the individuals who flit in and out of their lives. Idella, the older of the two, is practical, having been responsible for most of the domestic chores at home, while Avis, never satisfied, constantly seeks out more from life. In addition to the book’s characters, the author manages to paint a detailed image of life set against nature’s harshest background.
“That wind worked on people the same as it did on trees. It howled and bit, especially in the winter, and scraped away at you.”
Jensen, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2003, did not live long enough to see the publication of her novel. The passages originally written as stories were laced together after her death, by her husband Jay Silverman, who worked diligently to get them published.
While the story works well, there may be some readers who will feel slightly cheated regarding a few chapters which are less developed than others. All in all, The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay is a wonderful read, full of humor, colorful characters and fantastic, often biting dialogue. The reader can’t help but be charmed by these scrappy, determined women.