Half, a review

Sharon Harrigan’s Half (University of Illinois Press) is the story of twins, Artis and Paula, born into a blue collar family in Michigan. They are raised by a domineering father whose nickname is Moose (he tells the girls that living in Alaska he rode moose, “steering with the antlers”) and a submissive mother who runs a daycare center out of their house (a house that “reeked of warm milk and pureed peas, diaper rash and ear infections”). As the girls come of age, Harrigan explores the issues of identity, gender, and power in a narrative that is deft, entertaining, and satisfying on a number of levels.

The girls tell their story in one voice. “We” is the dominant point of view. The reader is taken into the mysterious interior world of twins, one of the attractions of this novel. They are essentially two halves of the same person. But each, being only a half, raises the question, Do they ever become whole in the course of the novel? Do they have a life and identity, one apart from the other?

And, similarly, do they have a life and identity apart from their family? In Moose, Harrigan presents a character who personifies male power and brutality. The girls think: “We knew to keep our family secrets.” While their father tells them: “If you tell what happens in this house, you’ll be taken away and never see your mom again.” There is love in this home, but it is love that crushes. In the course of the novel Artis and Paula learn and acquire power from their father while they also become aware of power they discover in themselves, power that is singularly female in nature–the other half of the human creature.  

The story begins in the future, Christmas 2030, at Moose’s funeral. In the minutes after the church service, one of the father’s friends, named Wild Pete, says to the girls, “You’re the ones who killed him.” That charge launches this compelling story.  For the reader, the rewards that lie ahead are rich. Sharon Harrigan has written a wonderful novel.  

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