If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?
Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.
In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.
In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.
Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?
What a truly extraordinary book! Told as a parallel storyline we follow the lives of both Louis and Louise Alder. The story does occasionally converge into non-gender-specific chapters referring to both siblings simply as ‘Lou’.
Louis and Louise grow up in small-town America, Casablanca, Maine to be more specific. It’s a place divided along the lines of those who work at the local mill and those who own and oversee it. They live a pretty idyllic life: school, best friends (twins Benny and Allie), plans to leave someday. Until graduation night when everything changes and their seemingly utopian existence comes crashing down and Lou’s instant instinct is to make an immediate escape, swearing never to return to Casablanca.
Thirteen years later, Lou’s mother Peggy is dying and reluctantly our protagonists return to their hometown. This is where Cohen’s sheer brilliance comes to the fore. The nuance and skillful use of inference and allusion used when referring to sexuality and gender reference are truly masterful. The theme is dealt with gently and with the utmost perception and empathy.
Similarly, Louise’s confusion and frustration in dealing with her prickly relationships with both her mother and teenage daughter Dana are handled with less frenzy and temper than would be expected. There are obviously one or two outbursts – the result of Lou’s anxiety at returning to the place that ended her childhood and damaged the memory she holds of home, but overall not as much as you’d imagine.
I’ve never really thought of how my life might have been different if I’d been born a male, and to date, I’ve never experienced any major incidents of gender-based bias. Julie Cohen explores different aspects of the gender theme in ways that will make the reader want to question gender roles if they haven’t done so in the past. If this is something you do question and negotiate on a regular basis, then you will relish the fact that the author has written this significant piece that brings these issues into sharp focus.
4.5 stars for this remarkable book. Thank you to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers, and Orion Books for inviting me along. Why not take a look at what these fabulous bloggers have to say about Louis & Louise: