Out of the mouths of babes and veterans

Wise Children

What's it like to be a twin? Someone I work with is sick of being asked that question (and yes, he's a twin), and invariably delivers the riposte: "what's it like not being a twin?" Philosophically adroit, but more reasonable twins, after a lifetime of mistaken identity, might venture something stoic like "ah, well, you make do." Perhaps in stereo.

Carter is on rich, earthy form with Wise Children, her own Much Ado About Nothing that flashes back from the tarnished, nostalgic present of the Chance sisters---twins Dora and Nora, a rhyming couple---through their careers and relationships. The tangles of their lives are teased out for all to see, dragging the reader willingly, indeed gladly, across continents and from one slightly harebrained theatrical production to the next.

The sisters not only make do, but they have a rare time, doyennes of the stage and film living it up from one end of the century to the next. They make the very best of their bastard's lot---the Chances are illegitimate offspring of Melchior Hazard, and the wordplay doesn't stop there. Famous dancer Estella and beefy Cassius sit on the list of dramatis personæ alongside the worthy Worthingtons, a film producer referred to only as "Genghis Khan", a writer and photographer of children referred to only as "Lewis Carroll", the Blond Tenor With Unmemorable Name and no fewer than four sets of twins, celebrating the identical melodramas of Shakespeare and vaudeville (off-stage if not on) with a whirlwind, joyful carnival of confusions and happenings.

Ostensibly a bawdy, comic tale, the novel's depth reveals itself, slowly and quietly, in its depiction of men---particularly the Hazards---with all their loves, desires, accomplishments and spectacular folly, as seen through the eyes of women---particularly the Chances. From this inversion of the usual device of the male gaze Carter pours forth candidness and comprehension, but reins in judgmentalism, to generate affection for all her characters, in a warts-and-all depiction that leaves one crying out for more. More assignations! More parties! More days for Dora and Nora, days for them to dance and sing!