All Harriet Szâasz has ever known is life onstage with her twin sister, Josie. As "The Sisters Sweet," they pose as conjoined twins in a vaudeville act conceived of by their ambitious father and managed by their practical mother, who were once theatrical stars in their own rights. Then, in an explosive act, Josie exposes the fraud in a spectacular fashion and runs away to Hollywood.
... an elegant, immersive family saga ... the city comes to vivid life beneath Weiss’s capable hand ... Though slow-moving and often melancholy, The Sisters Sweet is an intimate exploration of sisterhood, identity, ambition and betrayal. It forces us to ask who we are if the very thing that should make us unique — our face — is shared by another who takes it and becomes famouss in the process. The novel does a fine job of answering that question and gives us plenty of surprises along the way.
Minneapolis writer Elizabeth Weiss has spun a fascinating coming-of-age novel around this question, even imagining a literal tether. The result is a highly original, engrossing story about family secrets, hypocrisy and betrayal ... Harriet is a wonderful, full character—wise, observant, torn between duty to her feckless parents and a desire to live her own life ... The Sisters Sweet has a couple of jarring structural oddities; it's bookended by brief chapters when a reporter ambushes an aged Harriet to find out her story. The device of nosy journalist is a tired one, and, in this case, neither necessary nor believable ... And Harriet's narration, the bulk of the novel, is interrupted by third-person chapters set deeper in the past...but names are withheld and it takes half of the book for the reader to understand who these people are ... But these are quibbles. The Sisters Sweet is fiendishly well imagined, a powerful family story about selfishness and duty, sacrifice and freedom. As all around her the people who would use Harriet get what they want in various ways, the reader hopes madly that she will finally figure out a way to undo those ties that bind.
While the transitions between these stories within stories—sometimes taking place in a single chapter—can be jarring, they serve to humanize Harriet and her family. There are deep, tragic elements to this story, but Harriet does not dwell on them. The members of the Szász family, while odd, are easy to like. As Harriet grows, from passive observer of her own life to woman capable of choices, the coming-of-age theme heightens the story’s energy and focus ... This debut, by a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, is a multilayered celebration of female independence in the arts during an era that often demanded feminine conventionality. It should appeal to readers fascinated by women-centric takes on the theatrical world and the United States of the early 20th century.