measures success and excellence by male standards. Her conservative politics reflects just how out of touch she is with her female soul. She judges other women harshly. If a woman relies on her charms, rather than brains, to make her way in the world, Elizabeth brands her a prostitute. That’s how Elizabeth views Mary, her 48-year-old half-sister, a svelte, dark-haired beauty who has been married to some of the world’s richest men and whose idea of a good time is a villa in Capri and life made easy by well-trained, discreet servants.
Elizabeth and Mary call blond, baby sister Alex the spiritual type because she likes to spend time in churches. She also represents the classic bleeding-heart liberal. What will she do with her millions? Open a clinic with a group of nuns in war-torn El Salvador. Meanwhile she’s bored to tears in her marriage to a Jewish man who won’t let her celebrate Christmas. She doesn’t mind being away from her own two children for weeks on end, but fantasizes about feeding soup made out of wholesome, all natural ingredients to the starving kids in war-torn Central America.
Then there’s the lovechild Ronnie, the youngest, born of Upton’s affair with his Mexican housekeeper, is working on her dissertation on mosses and lichen and believes in the possibilities of Sisterhood. She’s been so poor all her life that she only owns ratty jeans and feels out of place when half-sister Mary insists everyone to dress for dinner, as if they were weekend guests at Brideshead.
At first, the women are at one another’s throats, arguing over past history and present circumstances. There’s a shrill, unpleasant tone to these early fights: Alex gaped at them. Mary swung on her. Don’t sit there with your mouth open catching flies, Alex, you simpering little creep. Almost halfway through the novel, the women discover that they have more in common than they thought, The only thing the four of them had in common was his abuse. (French 252), all of them having been raped by Upton when they were girls. Faced with this new and appalling knowledge, they put an end to the catfights and begin to protect one another, as they were never protected by their mothers when they were children. The half-sisters come to realize that their father purposely never wanted anyone of them to develop a bonding over the years. Mary once said:
He did it because he had to be the one Not just our centre but the only one we had. If we liked each other, we might band together, might rebel against him. He had to keep us at war with each other. (French 161)
At first it is their feelings of pain, rage, and fear that bind them, that continue to cast shadows over their lives. But slowly the walls between them begin to crumble and they come to accept, understand, even love one another. In the novel’s powerful and cathartic climax, they are at last able to confront the father they share with what he has done to them. The sisters confront their mute but conscious father and put him on trial for his crimes of incest. Alex while confronting Upton remarks:
At first we thought one of us would act as prosecutor, one as defender, one as accuser, and one as judge. But we could not decide who could defend you or who should accuse since we’re all your accusers. (285)