Monday, August 30, 2010
Even though the twins’ father warns them to take care of each other with the admonition that “dangerous neighbors” live nearby, the girls are convinced that together they are invincible. Yet Anna is no longer here, and Katherine, tormented by grief and guilt, is determined to join her. Using the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibit where ice cream and elevators are introduced to a rapt nation as her backdrop, National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart juxtaposes Anna’s and the nation’s optimism with Katherine’s grief and refusal to face the future alone. Kephart gradually unwinds the twins’ tragic story of Anna’s surreptitious love affair with the baker’s boy, the couple’s isolation of Katherine in their frantic search to be together, and Katherine’s gradual refusal to be responsible for Anna’s welfare. Similarly she unfolds the Centennial itself, slowly exposing its seamy underbelly, even the fire that destroys the shantytown that surrounds it and threatens the glorious fair and its participants. It’s a beautifully crafted, carefully researched historical novel that captures the essence of a single historic event while exploring the universality of love, grief, guilt, and the mysterious twin connection.