Sisterhood is more a phenomenon than it is a relationship. In Nessa Rapoport’s novel “Evening,” released Sept. 1, this complexity is conveyed through a meticulous narrative that swims between decades and untold stories. Beginning with the protagonist Eve’s return to her hometown under the tragic circumstances of her sister Tam’s passing, the novel touches upon a handful of themes, but the centrality of sisterhood never waivers. Rapoport hereby puts forth an intense, expressive work.
Eve is a teacher in New York and, simply put, takes life as it comes. Tam, on the other hand, never left Toronto, where she was a famous news anchor and lived a clean-cut, traditional life. Despite their differences, their synergistic personalities, as readers learn, round out each other’s edges.
Tam’s death is made all the more difficult for Eve because of the terms on which they left, the two having been in a terrible fight during Tam’s last weeks — or as Eve puts it, the illness seemed to have harrowed their “relationship along with her body.” Suspense lingers in every chapter as details of the dispute gradually emerge.
Their tenacious bond may be of fiery conflict, but it is also of deep love. In the blink of an eye, a conversation morphs from resentment to admiration, hostility to humor or, in the case of their last, tension to outrage. And to a simultaneously eery and heartwarming effect, a dialogue between them continues through the very last page. In nearly all scenes, Eve feels that Tam is with her and knows what Tam would say. Their relationship continues to evolve — never mind that only one of them is alive.
Throughout Shiva, the period of mourning that follows a funeral in the Jewish tradition, readers piece together the narrative’s second sisterhood: that of their grandmother Nana and late great aunt Nell. This enhances the novel’s mystique by adding a generational dimension to the story. Nana and Eve, both in town for Shiva, have a relationship that is also, of course, not simple in the slightest. Eve feels that she is a mirror of her “grandmother’s obsession” — an initially perplexing though eventually clear statement.
“Evening” has a number of figurative layers, all of which enlighten the novel’s meaning with striking wit. In Judaism, for instance, sunset is a significant time of day, often when holidays and events are to commence. This gifts the title an interesting relation to new beginnings. Also, readers can sense that Eve and Tam are two parts of a whole, that is, through what their names discreetly indicate: the first woman of biblical times and the attribute “tame,” respectively. These naming choices signify a more primitive instinct contrasting one more conventionally subdued.
And lastly, knowledge of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” enables a deeper understanding of Laurie, the neighbor who grew up with Eve and Tam. Rapoport’s Laurie, similar to Alcott’s Laurie, plays a unique role in forging a bridge of understanding between two sisters at grave odds.
The figurative layers, however, fare rather evident at times, such as with the identical spelling and name of Laurie. Similarly, the novel is tied up a bit too swiftly, as there are not quite enough seeds dispersed about the plot for the resolution to feel right. And what Tam leaves behind for her sister comes off as inorganic and cliche, whereas more understated ways to communicate from the other side would be more impactful.
Despite any allure that may be lost in this more explicit literary approach, “Evening” is a page-turner that instills a hope amid even the most dire and final of circumstances. Secrets are kept and hurtful remarks are made, but all unravels in due time. It is these ends and these means that allow Rapoport to tell the story of a delicate, enduring sisterhood, closing with both Eve and Tam ready to take on their tomorrows.