Sister Summary
by Jim Lewis

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his first novel, Jim Lewis records the observations of a bright but disturbed seventeen-year-old boy, Wilson, as he sets off on a journey whose only aim is independence. Wilson, who lost his mother in infancy and his remote, reserved father at fifteen, is a self-described misfit—a monster, as he says. After drifting briefly through the Midwest, he heads south and settles in a small city in Louisiana. He finds work as a gardener and soon becomes the groundskeeper for a wealthy family, the Millers: Holiday, the lawyer father; Anne, his wife; and Marian and Olivia, their teenage daughters. When Wilson is evicted from his rented room, he takes up residence first in the crawlspace under a gazebo at the edge of the Miller property and then in the boiler room of the Millers’ basement.

Wilson becomes devoted to the Millers’ garden, making it his own. Soon he becomes obsessed with the Millers themselves and begins spying on them day and night. His observation points are so well hidden and his movements so furtive that he becomes a living ghost in their house, eavesdropping on every conversation and scrutinizing every gesture.

The Millers experience ordinary family friction, but when Wilson reveals himself to Olivia and develops a relationship with her, this friction escalates into rage, violence, and complete disintegration.

The novel explores alienation, obsession, and the phantoms that haunt the edges of one’s consciousness. Lewis’ prose is rich and engaging. Although he sometimes imposes on the reader the thick, gratuitous language of a novice writer, this tendency lets up as the story progresses.