That’s What She Read: Novel explores questions of personhood, survivor’s guilt

“Little Sister” is an odd but fascinating read. (Photo Courtesy of

“Little Sister” by Barbara Gowdy is definitely one of the weirdest novels I’ve read lately.

Rose Bowan owns and runs the local movie hall with her mother. She has a placid, uneventful life and a placid, uneventful boyfriend. Her mother is in the early stages of dementia, but that is the only cloud on Rose’s horizon. However, when something very strange happens during a thunderstorm, Rose falls into a trance-like state and finds herself inhabiting another woman’s body.

Rose sees what the other woman sees and feels what she feels, but retains her sense of self, who she is as Rose. She is essentially trapped inside a stranger, wearing her like a psychic overcoat. As Rose searches for an explanation of the strange phenomenon, she gets drawn into the other woman’s life and becomes obsessed with finding out who she is and why Rose has become intertwined with her.

The mystery pushes Rose to think about her younger sister, who died years ago in a tragic accident on the farm where they grew up. Details of her sister’s death have been repressed in Rose’s memory but now begin to float to the surface as Rose is drawn deeper into the mystery woman’s life.

Was Rose responsible somehow for her sister’s death? Is survivor’s guilt driving these odd occurrences? Or is Rose, like her mother, experiencing a form of dementia?

While a strange story, “Little Sister” is a fascinating exploration of self, personhood, otherness and what makes us unique and causes us to care about one another.