Plot: The plot proceeds slowly at first, but quickens with a certain delicate flow as the story moves on. The plot is interesting and emotional.
Prose/Style: The prose possesses a sophistication with a certain air of wistfulness for a time long past. The dialogue doesn’t suffer from any pretensions, and nothing feels too dated.
Originality: The story hits a high note for originality, and the conflict between close families and the war between truth and lies ripping at the inner structure of family is very moving.
Character Development: The characters are relatable, not all likable, but their foibles and strengths embolden the readers’ reaction to them and identifying with the book’s cast. The characters make the story eminently more readable.
Date Submitted: June 13, 2019
The intense love shared by two sisters is challenged by crises in Welch’s debut novel, set in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Ithaca, New York, during the mid-20th century.
Shannon and Eliza Malone, born less than 11 months apart, were inseparable as children. The younger sibling, 17-year-old Eliza, is taller and more scholastically successful, and she has a social confidence that Shannon wishes she could emulate. Their mother, Nell, has always been more attentive to Eliza; meanwhile, Eliza “wished she could intervene and overwhelm Shannon with the security she craved but never got from the very same mother.” The girls have different dreams for their futures, but their devotion to each other is total. Then, in August 1946, Shannon contracts tuberculosis and is hospitalized for 10 months. Eliza begins seriously dating David Whitaker, a respectable young man, and in September, she enters her freshman year at a local college. One night, near the end of December, while the girls’ parents are at the hospital watching over Shannon, David’s war hero cousin, Patrick Whitaker, attacks Eliza and rapes her. She tells no one what happened, but the assault results in a pregnancy. Ashamed and traumatized, she still refuses to reveal the truth, even to Shannon. After the baby is born in October 1947, Eliza transfers to Cornell University, breaking off all contact with her family members. In skillful, straightforward prose, Welch sets her character-driven narrative against the backdrop of postwar societal changes. Along the way, she implicitly contrasts the more traditional St. Paul society with the nascent progressive movements in Ithaca. The addictive melodrama weaves a tale of secrets, misunderstandings, resentments, and squandered opportunities for reconciliation that keep the sisters apart for almost two decades. Shannon, the more creative of the two siblings, is a more fully drawn character than Eliza, and readers get to know her more intimately through her unmailed letters. A strangely ethereal epilogue offers a mostly satisfying conclusion, even if it leaves a few questions unanswered.
An engaging and poignant historical novel.
Sisters Shannon and Eliza have a history of relying on each other in the face of a distant mother and fragile family connections. Throughout childhood, life is better together than apart: "If Shannon had been with her sister, they'd have walked arm-in-arm straight through campus across the street and into the house they'd lived in since birth, chatting like two birds on a wire, and Shannon would never have met the boy with a tilted grin and a mess of curly black hair who showed up in front of her while the unlit cigarette still hung between her fingers."
As adults, things change as Shannon and Eliza develop different goals for their lives, and as physical and mental challenges drive them apart.
The connections that lend to their closeness and separation alike are considered in A Thread So Fine, a compelling saga that reveals not only the roots of these connected lives and the tenacity of dreams and goals, but the ability of sibling survival connections to continue past childhood.
As romances, politics, and trauma arise for each sister, patterns of the past threaten to overwhelm and separate their connections: "Eliza pulled the receiver away from her face and brought it to her chest, her mind reeling. Again, Fa was asking her to bury her needs in the shadow of Shannon's trauma. Again, pushed aside by Shannon's neediness."
Can the ties that bind prove changeable rather than breakable? Some things never change, and readers who undertake the journey of this evolving relationship between two sisters from childhood to adulthood will find that A Thread So Fine lassos the heart with stories of close connections tested by life's progression.
Readers of women's fiction who especially enjoy stories of sister relationships will relish this engrossing saga of change and survival.