HER is a tragic story of identical twins torn apart first by a rape and then by death. This is a surprisingly intimate memoir. Christa Parravani isn't keeping many secrets, and the line between herself and her sister Cara is almost nonexistent. She shares deeply personal information about both of them in equal measures. Excerpts from Cara's private writings are scattered throughout the book, including her written account of the rape that destroyed her.
The author's twin sister Cara was a vivacious, mischievous, confident young woman. She expected good things to happen to her, so much so that when she entered the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, she tied balloons to their mailbox so Ed McMahon would be able to find their house when she won. Everything changed for Cara in her early twenties, when she was raped in such a hideous way that she lost her former self completely. She turned to drug abuse and other risky behaviors, and died five years later from an accidental overdose.
Having an identical twin is about as close as you can get to having a second self. Christa and Cara were even closer than most identical twins. They slept back to back in the same bed all through childhood, roomed together in college, and even invaded each other's marriages with a sort of jealous possessiveness. When Christa lost Cara, she could not tolerate being twinless. She set off on a self-destructive path similar to Cara's, starving herself down to 85 lbs. and becoming addicted to pills.
There's not a lot of joy here, but Christa Parravani's writing is remarkably clear-eyed and balanced. She shares the depths of her despair and self-abuse without straying into melodrama or assigning blame. Writing became Christa's road back to a healthy and productive life, as well as a way to stay connected to her lost sister. She says of her writing:
"It did what time and therapy and lovers never could. I knew that to write I must have a clear mind. And because writing was the only way to be with Cara, to move again in tandem, writing won hands down over my crazy grief."
I read a lot of memoirs, but this is the first one I've read that helped me understand what it's like to be an identical twin, and even more revealing, what it's like to lose the only person who shares all of your memories since birth. The loss is like suddenly becoming half a person, and Christa had to redefine who she was without that other half. She's a courageous and talented writer, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
Christa took a series of photographs of herself and Cara, many of which are described in the book. You can view twenty of these photographs online if you do a google search for "christa parravani kindred". (I attempted to provide a web address within my review, but the Amazon system would not accept it.)