It begins in grade school, the adage “two’s company, three’s a crowd.” The refrain follows through adolescent rivalry for best friends, into the dating arenas of high school and college, and even into the competitive cubicles and offices of the professional world. It’s a common and fertile theme for artistic exploration, the canon of literature abounding with examples. This week in #litchat we’ll discuss books which feature themes leading to “three’s a crowd.”
This Friday’s guest host in #litchat, Gwendolen Gross, has explored this theme from a fresh and intriguing angle. Her latest novel, The Orphan Sister, is the story of triplet daughters born to a mercurial father and Stepford-like mother. Two of the twins are identical, leaving the odd one out to narrate what it’s like being the third wheel in a perfectly balanced family of pairs. The identicals, Olivia and Odette, given the O names after their polished and perfect mother Octavia, share the secret language of twins and are such mirror images they each follow their father into medicine, one becomes an ob-gyn, the other a pediatrician. They marry at the right time, to the right men, become pregnant within weeks of each other, and give birth to perfect babies. Clementine, the singleton within the triplets, shares a low-voltage intuition with her womb-mates, yet is conflicted with cravings for the intimacy of twinness and the individuality of marching to her own tune.
When the triplets’ father goes missing, leaving only the number of a lawyer behind, the story reveals another thread of odd-man out that threatens to unravel the tight-knit family. Layered between the triplet’s ongoing anxiety over their father’s disappearance, is Clementine’s internal struggle with self-confidence, rivalry with her sisters, hunger for approval from her father, the death of her first true love and why she has problems with love and commitment.
Gwendolen Gross grew up in Newton, Mass. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she studied science writing and voice performance. She spent a semester in Australia with a field studies program, studying spectacled fruit bats in the rainforest remnants of Northern Queensland. After college, she moved to San Francisco, then San Diego, and worked in publishing, as well as performing with the San Diego Opera Chorus. Through the San Diego Writing Center, she was selected for the PEN West Emerging Writers Program. Gross received an M.F.A. in fiction and poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poems have been published in dozens of literary magazines, and won the 1999 Adrienne Lee Award.
Her first novel, Field Guide, was issued by Henry Holt in April 2001 (Harvest paperback 2002), and her second, Getting Out, in spring 2002. These two women’s adventure fiction novels received critical acclaim. She then shifted her focus to the dramas of motherhood. with her third novel, The Other Mother (Random House, 2007).
An award-winning writing instructor, Gross has led workshops at Sarah Lawrence College and the UCLA Extension online. Gross has worked as a snake and kinkajou demonstrator, naturalist, opera singer, editor, and mom. She lives in northern New Jersey with her family.