She, Myself & I
by Whitney Gaskell
(Bantam, $12, PG-13) 0-553-38313-2
****
No, She, Myself and I is not about a woman's struggle against schizophrenia. Nor is it about her attempt to re-unite the disjointed odds and ends of her life. It is about three sisters trying to find themselves and, in the process, solidifying old family ties.

After living through their parents' very vicious divorce, the Cassel sisters have gone for very different things. Paige, the eldest and the smartest, is a high-powered divorce lawyer. Sophie, the prettiest, is settling down to a suburban life with her college sweetheart. Mickey, who is both smart and pretty, has just finished college and is preparing to go to medical school in the fall. Their future seems quite clear, but in fact all three are at a crucial turning point.

Paige is still reeling from her recent divorce. Though the parting was relatively amicable, it doesn't help that her husband has just come out of the closet. So when she takes a sudden fancy to Sophie's gorgeous and easy-going carpenter, it's no wonder that she feels just a little bit insecure about beginning a new relationship.

Meanwhile, Sophie is wrestling with a strong dose of post-partum weight gain and sleep deprivation, not to mention a somewhat inattentive husband and a delectable new pediatrician. She can't help but ask if life as a desperate housewife is really for her.

With a bright future opening up before her, Mickey doesn't have a thing to worry about -except maybe that future itself. She would much rather become a chef than a doctor, but doesn't know how to break the news to her parents. When the head chef at an exclusive Austin restaurant offers her free lessons about Cordon Bleu cuisine and spicy sex to go with them, she accepts - never mind that he still has a wife somewhere.

Although each sister's unique set of ups-and-downs is held together by the unfolding developments in their parents' sudden and newfound love for each other, I had the feeling I was reading three different stories rather than one interwoven network of plots and subplots. This may be due to the novel's division into three first-person narratives. It may also stem from the way sisterhood is portrayed.

Paige, Sophie and Mickey are much too nice to each other to be recognizable and realistic sisters (even the Cosby family, probably the most functional of television families, had its moments of sibling rivalries). Yet despite their troubled adolescent years and their highly competitive streaks, the Cassel sisters do not fight, argue or bicker with each other - at least not in ways that drastically affects the course and/or outcome of the story. Though they offer each other supportive feedback, a friendly ear, rent-free housing and the occasional long-reaching intervention, they do not grow together. Individually, they may develop as they struggle with their various romantic and personal dilemmas, but their relationship remains as changeless as it is conflict-free. Thus, while their sisterhood may be billed as the focus of the story, in fact, it is nothing more than a convenient backdrop. I came away with a nice, warm feeling but with no new insights into sororal relationships.

Then again, an upbeat story about women who are sisters and friends may be exactly what the reader wants. For all my misgivings, I raced through it, enjoying every minute of its authentic repartee and distinctive voice. I'm passing it on to my sister. We may have our issues, but, like the Cassel sisters, we know how to share a good thing too.

--Mary Benn


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