Essay: Twins in the Fiction of Sheri S. Tepper
Recognizing otherness is a recurring theme in literature because it reflects an experience we all share. Even in intimate relationships, as close as a family of parents and siblings, we can have that moment of feeling isolated, unknown to the others around us, or be baffled, unable to understand the motivations of our spouse.
Even a twin may be a world apart from us.
I was swept with deja vu when re-reading Tepper's The Margarets recently, shortly after being reminded of the transgendered conjoined Korszyczy twins in Sideshow (see Inborn Nature vs. Nurturing Choice).
The eponymous protagonist of The Margarets is actually a series of split personalities in the flesh, clones, each one generated by a crisis-point in Margaret's life. As with the Korszyczy twins, one of the seven Margarets ends up physically male; the rest are female. Their life-experiences span a broad range of human experience. But that's not the only kind of twin that provoked my deja vu.
In this novel, Tepper gives to each Margaret who has children a proclivity for producing twins. They are usually conjoined twins, and when they are, each pair has one member who is deficient in some way. Some deficiences are fatal; others merely threaten the quality of life of the twin or the community in which they live. (Several of these "lesser" twins are sociopathic. A few are merely pathetic or parasitic.)
For all the flaws of the novel—Tepper has a habit of scattering deus ex machina plot points like sprinkles on a kid-party cupcake—this compelling glimpse of the almost-identical, yet strange other, along with the embodiment of zero-sum-game philosophy in Margaret's conjoined children and grandchildren, lifts the story above its shortcomings. I never reread it without seeing something new in the Margarets' interactions.
In Gibbon's Decline and Fall, the twin Other is concealed until nearly the end of the story, so I can't go into detail without spoiling the reveal. Nevertheless, the twin is there, and shares another quality with the Korszyczy twins and with Margaret's children. (I often visualize the scene of a willowy woman's shadow on a screen from The Golden Child at the parts of the story where the other twin appears. Eddie Murphy's character is attracted to the shadow-woman until he sees her clearly; perhaps that is a large part of the resemblance I perceive.)
For most of us, twin-less others isolated by our skins, the idea of sharing so closely with another is the stuff of fiction. The more credit is due Tepper for showing that even twins may be trapped behind their own eyes, cut off from sharing identically except with identical lives and experiences.
We cast our shadows on a screen, but are rarely seen clearly. We fear being seen clearly, lest we repel those who are attracted to the silhouette. And we watch the screens around us intently, hoping for clues about what truly lies behind them.
We are, each and all, other.