Publication Date: June 2017
Review, short version: Three skunks out of a possible four.
If I’m going to stick with a book, I have to care about what happens – with the characters and with the plot.
It was hard to find anyone to care about in The Identicals, or to care what happened to them.
The identicals are 39-year-old twins, Harper and Tabitha. They loathe each other.
Harper is stupid, shallow, irresponsible, childish and a liar. She’s having an affair with a married man and stringing along a nice, single cop when she’s not rendezvousing with Dr. Married.
Tabitha is superficial, super-neurotic, a rotten parent, childish and a liar. She works in her mother’s (see below) boutique on Nantucket, and apparently doing a poor job of it, as she owes the landlord $80,000 in back rent. She also owes her ex-lover $40,000.
Tabitha is the mother of Ainsley, her 16-year-old daughter, whose extracurricular activities include drugs, stealing, lying, being boring, and loathing her mother.
The matriarch of this family is has-been fashion designer Eleanor, who is snobbish, supercilious, cold, distant, and harshly judgmental of pretty much everyone. Eleanor divorced their father years ago and the couple split the twins – Harper to her father, Tabitha to her mother.
And yes, the plot is a rip-off of the 1961 movie, The Parent Trap, remade in 1998 – separated twins, and what happens when they trade places.
I’m supposed to care about these people and their hackneyed storyline…why?
What happens takes 418 pages to unfurl, none of it interesting or surprising. Harper continues to be a flake. Tabitha continues to be a rotten parent. Eleanor continues trying to sell clothes that are 40 years out of date, and criticizing the twins, whichever one is handy.
Ainsley does evolve somewhat – she goes from using drugs and alcohol to also planting them in an ex-friend’s school locker as a revenge thing.
The twins, like all twins, have a number of things in common, like their long, dark hair. Yes, though nearly 40, they’ve done nothing to differentiate themselves, hairdos included. In fact, physically they’re so similar that few can tell them apart, from their lovers to their mother.
And they’re equally lacking in the integrity department. On page 164 we learn that Tabitha continues to work for, and accept abuse from, her mother because “There will be a payoff: Tabitha will inherit the empire. And even if that empire is diminished, Eleanor still owns a mighty fortune in real estate: the house here, the house on Pinckney Street. Tabitha will not relinquish her claim to that.”
Then there’s Harper, her married lover, Reed, and time-filler police officer, Drew. Reed is her dying father’s doctor, and Harper is at the hospital when her father dies. Harper (page 17) calls Reed, who’s at a family gathering. “Come to me,” she demands. Reed resists: “I have to stay here with my family.” “So you won’t meet me?” she whines on page 23. “You’re going to make me call Drew?”
The story (I use the word loosely) is mostly told from three points of view – Harper’s, Tabitha’s and Ainsley’s. The final chapter is told by a dog whose name is Fish. The reason for the dog’s name is not explained. The reason for the dog’s contribution is not explained, either.
You may have heard the phrase, “So many books, so little time.” I often think, “So many books, so many dysfunctional families.” And I know that without dysfunctional families we wouldn’t have stories – no one wants to read about happy, well-adjusted people, after all.
But did this family have to be this dysfunctional?