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The Alphabet Sisters    by Monica McInerney order for
Alphabet Sisters
by Monica McInerney
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2005 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Monica McInerney makes her American debut, spotlighting love and loyalty as the means to reconciliation after family disputes and separations. The Quinlan sisters (Anna, Bett, and Carrie) were brought up in Clare Valley, Australia. Their parents, Geraldine and Jim, oversee the family business, the Valley View Motel, passed on to them by Jim's mother. The story opens with Bett, a single music journalist in her thirties in London, as she reveals to a co-worker that her youngest sister Carrie laid claim to and married Bett's fiancÚ, Matthew.

The Quinlan siblings were once very close, performing on stage as 'The Alphabet Sisters'. Three years ago, they went their separate ways, and have not seen each other since. Grandmother Lola, who played a large part in the upbringing of her granddaughters, is approaching her 80th birthday. Each sister receives an invitation to attend the celebration, and Lola doesn't take no for an answer. A loving Lola shrewdly makes surprising announcements at the celebration. The sisters will direct, conduct, and perform with a cast of townspeople, a musical entitled 'Many Happy Returns', commemorating General MacArthur's historic visit to the Australian town of Terowie during WWII. The play is written by none other than Lola Quinlan, with proceeds to benefit the town's 'New Ambulance Fund'.

The eldest sister, Anna, lives in Sydney with her husband Glenn, and daughter, and has a career in acting and commercial voice-overs. Anna isn't excited about Lola's invitation, except for the fact that it will provide a welcome hiatus from her collapsing marriage - her husband blames the facial disfigurement of their seven-year old daughter Ellen (who was attacked by a dog) on Anna. Carrie and Matthew settled in Clare Valley, and she continued to work in the family business. Understandably, she is the most anxious of the three about the reunion, since her wedding caused the breakup. But Carrie's marriage is on a downward spiral, too, as she and Matthew face a separation.

McInerney provides exceptional character development of the novel's stars and supporting cast, including Jim and Geraldine Quinlan, long-term motel tenant and writer Richard Lawrence, and photographer Daniel Hilder. She takes readers on a journey of the unexpected. Her artful delivery - in depth of plot, and portrayal of real-life situations - tugs at the heart. She defines what can happen when love and loyalty lead to forgiveness, and shows a rekindling of bonds after family and community rally together.

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