Brooklyn Bugle Book Club: “Her: A Memoir” by Christa Parravani

February 23, 2014

When one’s identical twin dies, is one still a twin? That’s one of the central questions in Christa Parravani’s arresting and occasionally disturbing memoir “Her.” (This book, originally published last year and now out in paperback, is not related to the movie of the same title.) When her identical twin Cara died of a drug overdose – possibly by accident, possibly not – Parravani retreated into a black cave of loss. Because the other questions for her, and the other central question in her book, is whether one is still a person when one’s identical twin dies.

In Christa’s telling Christa’s and Cara’s emotional lives revolved around each other; they steadied each other like the gravitational pull of twin stars. Their mother was single for most of their lives; she left their abusive father when the girls were very young; a military stepfather left the family when the girls were teenagers. So there was a great deal of loss as they grew up. The girls were entwined; the twins went to college together; their lives don’t seem to have diverged much until after college.

There are theories that drug addiction is genetic and that it isn’t; that some personalities are more prone to addiction than others; that many addicts are survivors of child or later sexual abuse, and that they are self-medicating. Cara became a drug addict – when is not quite clear. It is clear that her life, and Christa’s, was immeasurably changed after Cara was brutally raped in the fall of 2001. Cara survived the rape – and the rapist was arrested, tried, and convicted – but things fell apart for both twins after the rape. First Cara’s marriage dissolved, and eventually so did Christa’s. Once Cara died, Christa’s life spun into depression and instability.

Cara and Christa, together, went through harrowing stages of Cara’s addiction and recovery: the increasing drug use and decreasing reliability of the twins’ relationship. The family’s hope that an expensive rehab stay would help. Cara’s expulsion almost at the end of rehab. Christa’s refusal to have much to do with her sister as Cara became more and more dependant on drugs, including heroin. Cara’s move home to their mother’s house, and her death there, in a bathroom, one afternoon.

“Her” is a disturbing book to read. Parravani brings her sister’s sufferings to the page both through her shared pain and through her writing skills. As students, both twins wanted to be writers, but Christa traded writing for photography during college. After Cara died Christa reclaimed the art. She has borrowed from her sister’s diary and a series of comments Cara made about photographs Christa took of the pair. The book is called “Her”, not “Hers,” not “Ours,” but it’s a tribute to Parravani’s skill as a writer that any of those titles would be equally apt. If you have a twin, or a sibling, or even if you don’t, this is a book worth reading for its close study of the emotional lives of siblings. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.

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