Cynthia Propper Seton Margaret Atwood - Essay

Margaret Atwood

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Half-Sisters"] is a snazzy, delightful novel, jaunty as a roadster and with something of its period flavor. It starts off in 1937 when its two 11-year-old heroines, energetic girls both, are spending August together as usual. They are related by marriage but not by blood—Erica's father has married Billie's mother—and are complementary rather than identical, Erica being plain, good and sensible, Billie stunning, bad and impulsive….

Listening to Cynthia Propper Seton recount their ups and downs, their betrayals, dishonesties, loyalties and illuminations, is like listening to a witty, well-traveled, sophisticated and slightly eccentric rich aunt gossiping and passing judgments upon her acquaintances, a fascinating passtime when the aunt has the flair, style and pithiness of the author. Also you learn things. She reminds me a little of Mary Poppins—no nonsense, please—and also of Lord Chesterfield, as she delivers verbal fillips to her characters' egos with 18th century elegance and precision, then injects them with helpful epigrams. The setting, too, has its elegances: it's the kind of world in which people have large flats in New York and spend the summer yachting at Moriches, and the author, polite or innocently snobbish, assumes we all know all about it. This plebian didn't, but it's great fun to watch, especially since the point, as in tennis (Billie's game), is not the activity or the content but the polish. Seton...

(The entire section is 496 words.)