From Dorothy clicking together the heels of her shiny red shoes in The Wizard of Oz, to an image of the shoemaker making the red ballet shoes dance in the final scene of The Red Shoes, movies are an integral part of Reel Life, the story of two sisters. Their childhood, teen years, and adult life are played out on a backdrop of contemporary and classic films such as Little Darlings, Blue Velvet, Vertigo, Kill Bill, and even Shrek.
Jackie Townsend, in her debut novel, has masterfully woven together these scenes as she also moves from one sister's point of view to the other's, and from one period of time to another. It's the story of a family that can't connect on the spoken level, and yet, as is true with most sisters, the lifelong sharing of events bind them together. The sisters, Betty and Jamie, may have had different feelings about their parents at times, but their shared experiences of simply being those parents' daughters means they can relate to each other in a way no one else can, not even their brother. He was outside the pairing of "My girls", as their mother liked to call them, as much by choice as gender. When you consider that your siblings represent the longest continual relationships in your life, it's no surprise that they are intense and complicated.
The story is not a light, easy read. In fact, in many places, it's quite dark as the sisters grapple with issues of fidelity, love, illness, motherhood and isolation. Ms. Townsend is able to give a strong sense of place and setting - not only the locales such as Thailand, Washington DC, and a small southern California beach town - but even in the varieties of movie theatres in which the movies are shown. However, despite the darkness, there are threads of hope. While many events divide the sisters physically and emotionally, their need for each other is something to which many readers will relate. I suspect this novel would provide some highly interesting discussion among book club members. I was not familiar with all the films mentioned, but they are described well enough for any reader to follow along, particularly in how they relate to the book's characters. An intriguing story, well told.