As a title, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien is a misnomer, or at least misleading. With an expansive, rhapsodic style, the novel celebrates fecundity, but it does not give equal time or attention to all fourteen sisters. Emilio, though not born until more than a third of the book is finished, is the object of as much narrative interest as any of the other O’Brien offspring. The first O’Brien child is old enough to be mother to the youngest, whom she in fact suckles as an infant.
Margarita is a creature of exquisite, insatiable longing, through sexual and romantic trials that span the twentieth century. Emilio is an Olympic philanderer whose brief brush with vulgar glamour suffuses the story with melancholy over mutability. He is graced by an acquaintance with Errol Flynn and enshrined in celluloid. Rather than three-dimensional personalities, most of the other O’Briens are types, for whom a simple set of traits suffices: Helen is a beauty, Irene “ever-plump” and omnivorous, Veronica compassionate, Violeta “pleasure-bound and promiscuous.”
Similarly, the non-O’Briens in the novel are foils to and extensions of the story’s central figures. Lester Thompson, the wealthy sadist whom Margarita marries, is a cad who serves to test and reveal his young wife’s qualities. Leslie Howard, the gentle, loving pilot she marries when she is ninety, enables the plot to circle back to Margarita’s girlish dreams of...
(The entire section is 540 words.)