Sisters by Mary Robison, 1977
The magic trick:
Loading the story with repressed sexual tension and anger
Mary Robison Week on SSMT, and we begin with her first New Yorker story. It’s a good one. You can certainly see why she was tabbed as an exciting young writer at the time.
The bizarre sexual subtext between Uncle Ray and Melissa begins in the first paragraph. It carries on throughout the story, so that the reader is left wondering, “Is this a thing? Why isn’t anyone talking about or even acknowledging it?” And then finally, in the very last scene, they do. Mostly.
The whole thing is quiet repression and dysfunction.
And that’s quite a trick on Robison’s part.
The nieces were sitting cross-legged on the rug. “Why not?” Sister Mary Clare said. “It’s not blessed or anything. I’ve been woozy ever since we ate, myself.”
“I just meant they’re so clean at St. Anne’s,” Penny said. “And none of you are sick like I am. Don’t try to convince yourselves you are.”
“I’m not sick,” Melissa said.
“You didn’t eat a mouthful,” Sister Mary Clare said. She exhaled and stood up.
“I wonder why you visit us every year, Melissa,” Penny said.
“Do you mind it?” Melissa asked. “If you do -”
“She doesn’t,” Ray said.
“No,” Penny said. “I don’t mind. I just wonder if you girls could find something to do outside for a bit.”
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