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The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters


The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters

In August of 1971 a little girl writes a letter to her unborn sister. "It's like you are here," she writes with love, "only you're invisible." In this letter Olivia Hunt welcomes Madeline to her life.

Even though times and technology have changed, Olivia Hunt, now a busy movie executive, still finds time to write good old-fashioned letters. In fact, it is in these letters that the busy and often emotional and physically distant Olivia maintains her relationships and communicates her feelings. When Madeline is diagnosed with cancer, Olivia's letters show her struggling with her feelings for her family and trying to take care of her sister, while attempting to get an ambitious movie made and trying to understand why her long term relationship has ended. In letters to her sister, parents, best friend, ex-boyfriend and co-workers, Olivia tries to manage a life and career, both of which seem to be spinning out of control.

The central story in Elisabeth Robinson's debut novel THE TRUE AND OUTSTANDING ADVENTURES OF THE HUNT SISTERS is that of Olivia and Madeline. Though the sisters are very different, Madeline's illness causes Olivia to reassess their relationship. Madeline has always been critical of her older sister and ready with unwanted advice. But her cancer changes everything. Olivia remembers the stories she created for them when they were little; these memories and her sister's strength ground Olivia even as Madeline's health and her movie project prospects seem to worsen.

Besides flying home to be by Madeline's bedside, Olivia is flying between Los Angeles and Spain trying to get her movie, a version of Don Quixote, made. Often the most lighthearted of the subplots, Olivia's challenge here is to successfully produce her movie without compromising her vision. Hollywood politics make her task difficult, but she finds inspiration in Madeline.

Meanwhile, Olivia sends a series of letters to her ex, Michael, an artist who has moved to rural New Mexico. She opens her heart to him in epistles, remembering what went right and what went wrong in their relationship.

Throughout the novel Olivia is forced to prioritize the things in her life. She must also come to terms with her complicated relationships. Her time with Madeline may be limited, and Olivia must discover and celebrate the love that they have for each other, despite their differences and history.

Robinson's novel has the style and trappings of "chick lit" but works hard to transcend the genre. Written completely in letter form (and all the letters are from Olivia; we never have a chance to read other points of view), it is difficult at times to get close to the characters and understand their motivations. Even as Olivia struggles to let go of some selfishness, Robinson allows her to claim all the attention, silencing the other figures in the book, for the most part. Still, Olivia is a sharp and witty narrator, and her letters are often hilarious, poignant or both.

Another difficulty with the novel is its reliance on and reference to Don Quixote. The film version of Cervantes's tale is Olivia's dream. Perhaps she identifies with the famous dreamer, but her attachment to the story is not quite clear. She refers to sections of the classic often in her letters, though readers unfamiliar with the story may be somewhat at a loss.

Robinson shines, however, in capturing the conflicts and heartbreak of a family dealing with a loved one's illness. Her characters feel the most real, the most honest, here.

Overall, Robinson's novel is a promising debut, full of humor and honesty. Olivia Hunt's story is one of relationships and self-understanding --- and Robinson is brave enough to give the reader both a happy and a sad ending.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters
by Elisabeth Robinson

  • Publication Date: January 3, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316159360
  • ISBN-13: 9780316159364