Finding a sense of home is the crux of the human condition. We are all seekers of love and protection, our very birth right. Relationships are inherently complex, as we are reconciling the sameness and division within us all. In Libby Creelman’s book Split, a story of family and belonging, the author explores racism, connection, and prejudice.
Set in the midst of the civil rights movement and post-Vietnam war, identical twins April and Pilgrim steel away from the world, taking shelter in one another on their parents’ farm in rural Massachusetts. They share the secret language of twins, a knowing within a knowing.
The novel takes us to 1975, the girls’ sixteenth year, where their father recruits a young Bahamian doctor to take care of the residents of the town. Small town racial prejudices keep patients at bay so the doctor spends time with the girls and their family.
Pilgrim and April dub him Dr. Panama. When the relationship between the girls and the doctor extends beyond the socially acceptable boundaries of the conservative town, the family frays. Years later, long since estranged from her family, Pilgrim finds out her father has died and her mother is overthrown by Alzheimer’s disease, and returns on the night of the 2008 election.
Her tragedy-soaked homecoming finds her childhood home in disarray, and the country in financial crisis. Pilgrim begins to put together the fragments of her past, and set right what can be set right, both in her own personal life, family, and the broader community.
Creelman’s writing is clean. She’s a sentence writer. Each line builds the arc of her story. Her insight into the dynamics beteween sisters, twins in particular, sings. Her previous works include a book of short stories, Walking in Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Winterset Award for excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing. Her first novel, The Darren Effect, is a story of love, heartache and redemption.
In Split, Creelman harnesses her power as a provocative storyteller. She is a writer of precision, and navigates the relationship between twins, their sameness, and difference. How siblings witness one another’s lives, weather the seasons, and endure the hardships of life.
April and Pilgrim are strong characters, terribly flawed, and uncertain, yet their journey together as siblings offers the lessons of what it means to be dependent and become independent beings. Even their names, April and Pilgrim, hints at their difference, one being a soggy spring-like month, the other marking a seeker on a pilgrimage.