Image shows a portrait of twin boys, one unhappy, one unhappy, with a shadow behind.
My twins, plus sinister shadow

As a June baby, I never gave much credence to astrological signs or birth stones, for that matter. (I mean, pearl, alexandrite, or moonstone. Really?) But back to signs: I’m a Gemini, the twin sign, and the “liveliest” of the air signs, whatever that means. I share this honor with dead Gems like Marilyn Monroe and live ones like Kanye West. So, I’m in complicated company.

Anyhow, this twin married another one just about 16 years ago. Six years later, we twinned Geminis had a set of actual twin babies. But even before they were born, I prepared myself to be a twin-mom. It’s a whole thing. I read (as I’m wont to do) the dos and don’t of twin-parenting, and I found that much of the emotional-care advice falls into two buckets.

  1. Do treat your twins like two individual people and not a BOGO deal
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of making twins into neat polar opposites for shock value or as a handy literary trope.

You know, as in good twin-bad twin, smart twin-dumb twin, funny twin-serious twin. It’s not only cruel but, in the case of good characterization (since this is a writing blog), just plain lazy.

So, I’m on the lookout for nuanced twin tales. Tell me what you’ve got in the way of literary fiction for adults and maybe YA, too, that features twins. I’m curious (and kinda self-quarantined, so I’ve got a little time).

I’m also interested in the way two characters who are not twins can be “twinned” in stories. Which brings me, a bit late (but really, we’re all self-distancing, so what else do you have to do?) to my latest read: Domenico Starnone’s novel, Trick, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri. (It’s true, she’s amazing in Italian, too.)

Image shows the cover art for Domenico Starnone's novel, TRICK, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, from Europa Editions.
Cover image pulled from Europaeditions.com

A wonderful, surprising, and layered novel, Trick deserves an in-depth discussion–of setting, plot, inspiration, and characters. (In order, that’s Naples, Italy…grouchy grandfather babysits precocious grandson for a few days…a Henry James ghost story, card games, and more…and the aforementioned grandfather and grandson.)

Though separated by a 70 year gap in age, the grandfather and his grandson are twinned by Starnone, who breaks all the rules of twin-parenting while creating characters that are so real-feeling I half expected them to pinch me from the pages of my book. Indeed, Starnone treats the grandfather and grandson as a unit–in the Naples apartment, on the streets, and even in the bathroom where they take a pee together. (Never have I found a bathroom scene so endearing!) In conjoining these two disparate humans, the reader realizes how similar they are. (How similar we all are!)

Likewise, by showing the characters as dichotomies–old versus young, fragile versus agile, learned versus unlearned–Starnone illustrates how much we humans have in common. And this is true not only at the beginning and end of life (when frequent trips to the bathroom are necessary) but throughout the spectrum of our human existence on Earth. We all laugh, cry, yearn for love, endure pain, seek pleasure and distraction, and will die.

Starnone twins, or adds layers to, his characters using ghostly images–that pop up in the drawings the illustrator-grandfather makes and also in the older man’s imagination. The grandfather is also further layered by his memories of his dead wife, which cling to him–specifically his wife’s criticism. As a husband, he was distracted by his art, so much so that it made him at times into a “stranger,” a “tenebrous version of myself that had frightened her.” Perhaps he has always been someone with multiple versions of himself. As a child in Naples, “numerous me’s were in bud since early adolescence and yearned to assert themselves…”

Don’t we all have numerous me’s? It’s a trait sometimes foisted upon us Geminis, who are sometimes called two-faced. But shouldn’t we be many-faced–whether we were born in June, born singletons, or born twins? Isn’t this the kind of multifaceted characterization, which we readers and writers hope for? Why would we want life to be so much simpler, flatter?

Toward the end of the novel, Trick, the grandfather talks of clones of oneself, and the moment “you repel yourself.” That’s some trick, but the whole novel can be seen this way–as a sleight of hand, a trick of the eye.

Then there’s the “I” of youth, our youngest self. “How we love–all of us–our chatty little imp,” the grandfather muses. Which brings me to the climax of the novel. I won’t give away any spoilers here. But it happens that the grandfather and grandson are on the opposite sides of a glass door–and so ensues in the glass reflections a twin twinning. And everything is flip-flopped, when the “I” of youth saves the “I” of maturity–or does it?

“I’d wanted to keep the horror,” the grandfather thinks, “that spread through the house, through the street, on the face of the earth, at a distance… Instead it stretched, it split at the seams, it suffered, breaking into shards.” What image–of ourselves or another, a child or an adult, hasn’t suffered such a split? We are all many more than one thing. More than one reflection, one opposite, one twin.

Do you abide by astrological signs? Do you know any twins? Give me your favorite set of twins from popular culture. What are you reading and writing to endure this period of self-distancing?

Stay well!

~Rebecca

12 thoughts on “On Twins and Twinning in Life and Lit, feat. Domenico Starnone’s TRICK

  1. Drawing a blank on twins! I used to enjoy astrological signs, but I truly think it’s all hocum.

    I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books recently. (There is a set of twins in Goblet of Fire). Back to writing my blog – didn’t realize just how much I missed doing that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Remember the days of checking the newspaper each morning for your astrological horoscope? I wonder if some still do that–or do it online. It is kinda fun, if probably nonsense.

      Thanks for the twin-spotting in Harry Potter. I don’t think my boys and I got that far in the series.

      If there are pluses to all this self-isolating scariness–it’s that it’s freed up a little time for some of us to write. I’ll look forward to your next post, Eilene, and thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel Lynn Solomon’s debut YA novel is a story about twins. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard it’s a great story. It’s titled “You’ll Miss Me When I”m Gone,” and it’s available on Amazon. I think it’s worth checking out! 🙂

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  3. No twins for you. (yours are adorable BTW) I’m re-reading On Writing and another sexy book I’ll keep mum about. I wonder if we’ll see a lot of births nine months from now…I mean, what else are folks to do?! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kelly! Ah, I love On Writing and am intrigued by your “sexy book.” Ha, I would imagine we’ll see some kind of a baby boom nine months from now–no sense trying to isolate from your partner. Though I do think there are a lot of people who are ignoring the isolation recommendations and just going about life as usual. I mean, as an INTJ, I’ve spent my life training for isolation, but I know social people have a harder time. My 80-year old dad, who lives by himself, said he sometimes goes to the grocery store just to talk to people. He was exaggerating, but I do think it’s tough for some people to remove themselves from their typical social routines. For me, I hope to get caught up on a few things around the house, but my boys brought home a ton of schoolwork I’ll have to guide them in. You home-schoolers have a leg up on the rest of us there. Off to read your post now!

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  4. I have always been fascinated by twins — maybe it’s an only child thing. These days, though, the twinning that has caught my imagination is that which I see in my family: Father and daughter, mother and son. Our daughter is physically a mix of us, but her personality is all daddy. Our son is a mini me, inside and out. This is not something we taught them, nor is it a reflection of who they spent the most time with; they just grew this way. I love the idea of twinning grandpa and grandson — I will have to check that book out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Nicole! Growing up, twins were unusual. Of course, they’re so much more common now. There’s a set of identical twins at my boys’ school (my guys are so obviously fraternal) whose mom dresses them, accessorizes them, and grooms them identically. It’s fascinating and strange. I love your take on twinning in your family. Just from following your pics and posts, I can see your family’s twinned dynamic. Genetics are amazing! TRICK is delightful, if at times a little sinister. I think I’m partial to crotchety old men in fiction, but the grandfather has a soft side, too. And the portrayal of the grandson is so good. I hope you enjoy it–it’s a fast read, which is also nice! Take care during this time of weirdness and uncertainty!

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  5. I’m a twin, my older sister has twins, my neighbors growing up (who I’m still friends with) are twins, my good friends from high school are twins. I’ve been surrounded by them my whole life 😅.

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