by Christa Parravani

Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2013. ISBN 978-0-805-09653-8.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 06/22/2013

Nonfiction: Memoir

One day at an A's game, my adult stepdaughter said, "Of course Sam and David can share a seat; they shared a womb for nine months." That succinctly explained the level of intimacy and immediacy that all twins share. Sam and David are fraternal twins. In Her, the characters of Christa and Cara Parravani are identical twins and the memoir examines that special intimacy that twin share, and how it can impact each twin.

As children, Christa and Cara protected each other from their home environment and the world at large. There was nothing they didn't share. In college, Cara studied writing while Christa pursued photography. The twins were identical and beautiful. They fought and then resolved issues with an intensity fueled by both love and co-dependency. The sisters were closer to each other than to they were to their spouses.

The relationship changed after Cara was raped while she walking her dog. The rape separated the twins in ways that they could not overcome. Cara often declared that they would die together, probably from drugs; however that did not happen. Instead, Cara died at age 28 of suicide compounded by a drug overdose, despite Christa's efforts to help her out of her downward spiral.

Christa Parravani's memoir, Her, is about Christa's inconsolable grief and her search for meaning, clarity, and peace after her twin sister's death. Studies show that when an identical twin dies, her surviving sibling is at risk. With intense honesty Her explores the excruciating challenge Parravani faced as she fought the urge to become her dead sister's mirror image. She wrestled with her identity and desire to use drugs. She grappled with survivor's guilt. She struggled with who she was in the world since she no longer had a twin.

Writing was Parravani's healing process. Once Christa saw her story and her feelings on paper, she went deeper, exploring and analyzing her feelings, the incidents that created them, and the shifts in her perceptions of the world.

There's something about committing words to paper that helps the writer gain perspective. The result is Her, a powerful and beautifully written memoir about a unique love and loss. Her is also a story of survival, guilt, and grief that every reader, twin or not, can relate to. Ultimately Her is about living life to the fullest regardless of the obstacles in your path.

Parravani's writing is simultaneously gutsy, heartfelt, deep, and edgy. She is now a writer and a photographer, and carries her sister's influence with her wherever she goes. Christa's newly emerged whole self may be a perfect embodiment of that original egg, evolving into the writer that Cara aspired to be. She saw and heard herself in Cara, but ultimately she was able to separate herself from her twin. Cara's death gave Christa a reason to fulfill her desire to write, something she gave up when Cara claimed it as her own.

Read Her if you are a twin, whether you're close to your sibling or not. Read Her if you've wondered about twins, loss, grief, survival, or re-inventing yourself, or if human behavior and relationships intrigue you. I hope Christa will continue to tell her stories and Cara's. Christa Parravani is a promising writer.

Christa Parravani is a writer and photographer. Her photographs have been exhibited internationally, and are represented by the Michael Foley Gallery in New York City and the Kopeikin gallery in Los Angeles. She has taught photography at Dartmouth College, Columbia University and UMass, Amherst. She earned her MFA in Visual Art from Columbia University and her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Anthony Swofford and their daughter. Visit her website.

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