After seven years, Emma Wentzell finally has the child she’s longed for and she is determined that Eleanor will be brilliant. Life, it seems, is all it should be, but Emma soon finds out that she has a rival for Eleanor’s affection—her older and childless sister, Virtue. The jealousies of the past and present emerge and start the sisters on a course that neither wants yet neither can alter. Caught between the two, Eleanor fights for her own identity amidst the vagaries of what it means to be a family, doubts about church and God, her mother’s failing health and her own future. Set in Lunenburg in the 1940s and 50s, Broken Symmetry is the tale of two sisters and the one daughter who tore them apart.
The trouble began as soon as Emma knew she was pregnant. After Nathan, Virtue had to be the first to know. So Emma went to the open door of her sister’s kitchen, breathless with excitement. It was late afternoon; Virtue was peeling potatoes for dinner. The knife went precisely round and round the potato, the string of peel unbroken.
“You’ll never guess what has happened. At last. . . ,” Emma said.
Virtue looked up, the potato peel curling down from her left hand. Already she seemed removed, as if she anticipated the news. “I’m going to have a baby! After all these years. Seven lean years. Dr. Willis told me this afternoon.”
Virtue stared at her white, blank potato. “Oh,” she said. “I see.”
Emma stood in the doorway, waiting for something more. “Aren’t you . . . aren’t you happy for me, for us?” Virtue’s words fell like a dull knell. After a minute more, Emma went back to her kitchen, sat down on the old wicker chair and wept silently. Of course Virtue had always been “touchy,” like when Emma got her Grade Ten and her Grade C teachers’ licence and Virtue had to make do with the D licence, which was all her Grade Nine qualified her for, or all the boys wanted to dance with Emma because she was prettier. Those times had been difficult, but that seemed normal, somehow. It was the way sisters were. This was different.