Sisters is written in very short chapters, many of them one or two sentences, which evokes a scattered, unsettled brain. You can’t begrudge her some anger: 'Once while we were making love, my husband called out her name instead of mine,' she writes. But Tuck is interested less in well-worn themes of love and fidelity than our capacity for self-deception. The style of Sisters — clipped, interior, written with a deliberately flat affect — is in good company of late. Novels like Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose, Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, and Rachel Cusk’s Outline all consider relationships from a fragmentary, almost cubist perspective. For all of them, the idea of a straightforward romantic narrative is overly, well, romantic. What distinguishes Tuck from her peers is a command born of experience — she’s been writing in this mode since the early ’90s, earning a National Book Award for it (somewhat controversially) in 2004. Sisters looks like a busted narrative, but Tuck expertly deploys revelations like land mines.
In lieu of names or length, Tuck offers instead another minimalist masterpiece, a tight knot of a novel filled with intertextual puzzles, pathos, and happy rewards ... Instead of people, art is what really makes Second Wife tick. A sly, early reference to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca’’ clues the reader into the fact that Second Wife has a modicum of self-awareness ... It is through intertextual reveries that Tuck is able to pack so much heft into such a small package. Most notably, Tuck mines the stories of great men, including Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, Czech president Vaclav Havel, and others, who married younger women the second time around. Little did we know that this could be such a fruitful area of contemplation. Nor could anyone have predicted that the novel’s publication should coincide with the indelible image of our first lady, the president’s third wife, striding across the tarmac to board a plane to Houston, in five-inch stiletto heels.
Underlying her entire narrative is a question she can’t bring herself to ask out loud: Whom does her husband love best, his first or second wife? Clues abound. As do red herrings ... rtists and muses who suffered love affairs splintered by infidelity are summoned to bear witness to the narrator’s obsession: Auguste Rodin and his mistress Camille Claudel; Vaclav Havel and his wife, Olga Splichalova; Simone de Beauvoir and Nelson Algren (after whom she has named her two cats). Pertinent works of literature are revisited in the hopes they may cast light on the narrator’s position ... Sisters moves quickly, and the less practiced reader may be slower to discern a narrative trajectory that leans on allusions to other works. But sooner or later the question dawns: For whom are clues gathered — the narrator, or the reader?