Lark and Robin are half-sisters raised in Montreal by their disinterested single mother, an upbringing that gave them a fierce bond. But as they grow into women, their differences strain their relationship, and studious Lark and rebellious Robin grow apart—yet find they still need one another.
Ohlin’s characters are compelling and subtle, as is the world they inhabit. They evolve but remain very much themselves ... The prose in Dual Citizens is spare and thoughtful, like Lark herself. Ohlin’s style resists melodrama and instead imbues moments with emotional gravity using the simple weight of Lark’s testimony ... It could be said that Ohlin chooses to portray too large a swath of life in this novel (in one instance, she glosses over three years with a single sentence). I’d argue, though, that the novel is made in these small moments of sparkling clarity, where the affection a reader feels for these achingly flawed and lifelike characters bumps up against Ohlin’s clear-headed and honest depictions of their struggle. Dual Citizens is a gentle and moving exploration of what bonds us to those we love and the evolving strength or tenuousness of those bonds ... Loving others is not easy for the girls, or even the women they become, in this book. They are buoyed over the deep water of their losses and devastating joys by their unassailable bonds, their invisible garments of love and trust. This is their story, entrusted to us via Ohlin’s vast emotional intelligence and illuminating, unassuming prose.
Ohlin's prose and insight are luminous, particularly within 'Childhood', focused on the girls' early years and the exposed roots they trip over as they try to find their footing—as sisters, daughters, parental figures and individuals. 'Motherhood' is equally compelling yet oddly discordant, as Robin and Lark spend much of it apart. As with her prior novel, Inside, Ohlin is adroit at articulating her characters' internal dialogues, and it becomes apparent to the reader as it does to both women that they are at their most harmonious when connected to each other.
Dual Citizens is a slow, unshowy novel with little in the way of tension. It creeps along at such a benign, caterpillar pace that I expected some kind of dramatic metamorphosis for the sisters, but though the ending enacts a touching reconciliation it only lightly disturbs the overall atmosphere of quiet resignation. This is largely due to Ms. Ohlin’s decision to couch the novel in Lark’s perspective, allowing only an obstructed view of her far more compelling sister.