Cover image for Her fearful symmetry : a novel
Her fearful symmetry : a novel
1st Scribner hardcover ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Scribner, 2009.
Physical Description:
406 p. ; ill. ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
690 L Lexile
When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves everything to the 20-year-old American twin daughters of her own long-estranged twin, Edie. Valentina and Julia, as enmeshed as Elspeth and Edie once were, move into Elspeth's London flat and through a series of developing relationships a crisis develops that could pull the twins apart. They discover that something is alive in Highgate Cemetery--something unable to move on.


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When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers--with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another. They are twenty. .

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including--perhaps--their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind..

Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life--even after death..

Author Notes

Audrey Niffenegger (born June 13, 1963 in South Haven, Michigan) is an American writer and artist. She is also a professor in the Interdisciplinary Book Arts MFA Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts.

Niffenegger's debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), was a national bestseller. The Time Traveler's Wife is an unconventional love story that centers on a man with a strange genetic disorder that causes him to unpredictably time-travel and his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent and unpredictable absences. The film version, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, is due for release in August 2009. Her latest fiction novel is entitled, Her Fearful Symmetry.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Niffenegger's ghost story is a stirring meditation on doubleness featuring twins Valentina and Julia; their mother, Edie and her twin, Elspeth; the two halves of Highgate Cemetery in London; the Western duality of body and soul. Audie Award-winner Bianca Amato gives a brilliant performance: Julia and Valentina's voices are differentiated just enough to tell them apart; Elspeth is Oxbridge refinement, but her twin has Americanized her accent. Amato's greatest challenge is Martin, a brilliant crossword setter whose neuroses prevent him from leaving his flat. Amato gives him a wit and allure that let the listener become as entranced with him as Julia does. This well-paced and lustrous audio will mesmerize and delight. A Scribner hardcover (Reviews, July 27). (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Niffenegger, a Chicago artist and writer with an elegantly romantic and otherworldly sensibility, earned international acclaim for The Time Traveler's Wife (2003). This season the film version of her best-selling debut will be quickly followed by this cunning and enrapturing ghost story. As evident in her exquisite, fairy tale-like illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters (2005) and The Adventuress (2006), Niffenegger has a discerning eye and a slyly gothic sensibility, elements that shape this tragicomic fantasy about two generations of twins. Valentina and Julia, inseparable, 20-year-old mirror image twins, are still living with their parents outside Chicago when they inherit a flat in London from Elspeth, their mother's long-estranged twin. Unaware of the painful secret that has kept Edwina and Elspeth apart, ethereal Julia and Valentina arrive in London to find they'll be living beside the historic Highgate Cemetery. The flat below theirs is occupied by Elspeth's broken-hearted, younger lover, Robert; the flat above is home to Martin, a crossword puzzle-maker plagued with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it seems as though Elspeth is still in residence as a meddlesome ghost. With a sumptuously mournful mise-en-scene (Robert is a cemetery guide, as is the author), Niffenegger tells a gorgeously rendered, utterly bewitching, and profoundly unnerving tale of the mysteries of selfhood and death and the way love can be both a radiant and malevolent force.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

In the second half of the 19th century, Londoners enjoyed a form of recreation that today might seem grisly: a Sunday stroll through one of the vast graveyards beyond the city center. The new burial grounds were established to move corpses out of the metropolitan churchyards, where they had contaminated the groundwater; these cemeteries were at once gardens, social centers and museums of statuary, a sort of theme park bristling with monuments to lost loves and individual hubris. They ultimately bore the same message one might hear in church: No matter how we try, our human endeavors end in death. It was not uncommon to find a family picnicking among the headstones. Highgate Cemetery, which opened in 1839, is perhaps the most famous of these parklands and a popular tourist attraction now. It is home to the remains of Karl Marx, Radclyffe Hall, Michael Faraday and the Pre-Raphaelite model Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti, among many other luminaries. It represents lives, secrets and stories jumbled together, the path through them determined by proximity and the tastes of the individual tour guide. In that way, it is like a novel. Audrey Niffenegger makes the most of Highgate in a bewitching new novel, "Her Fearful Symmetry," which proves that death (as one currently popular saying goes) is only the beginning. That's true for Elspeth Noblin, who dies of cancer at age 44 after declaring: "A bad thing about dying is that I've started to feel as though I'm being erased. Another bad thing is that I won't get to find out what happens next." A lot happens next, and a very unerased Elspeth participates in much of it, for there is a ghostly and passionate life after death: conflicts, like spirits, live on. Buried in Highgate, just over the fence from her former apartment, Elspeth's corporeal self has left behind an estranged twin sister, a younger lover whom she promises to haunt and a valuable estate that now belongs to her nieces, also twins, living in America. She stipulated that they can collect only if they move into her flat for a year and keep their parents out. Her reasons will be explained if Elspeth's lover, Robert - a neighbor and Ph.D. student writing an obsessive history of Highgate - can bear to read the diaries she's left him. Obsession is the order of the day. Niffenegger digs deep into various forms of love, including the oppressive closeness between both pairs of twins and the beyond-the-grave ardor of Elspeth and Robert. There's also the outright fobsessive-compulsive disorder that confines another likable neighbor, Martin, to his apartment. Martin's otherwise loving wife leaves him because of his physical rituals and emotional tics, the hoards of boxed-up belongings and the bleach-chapped hands that are figures for any kind of drive that takes over body and soul. Robert's obsession with Highgate means he has "lost all perspective" and let his thesis grow to more than 1,400 pages. In her own career, Niffenegger has written roughly as many pages that prove she is a daring, inventive and immensely appealing writer. Her runaway first book, "The Time Traveler's Wife," is the story of two Chronos-crossed lovers whose meetings and partings are beyond their control; her illustrated novels, "The Three Incestuous Sisters" and "The Adventuress," mix equal parts fairy tale and gothic romance. Each of these is a high-concept tour de force, with the flashiness that the term implies; each one is also an incantation to primal desires and horrors. In the present case, is anything more alluring than twins or more cathected than a ghost? Death comes with its own set of rules. Elspeth's spirit is unable to leave her old apartment, so she hides in a desk drawer and gains strength by teaching herself how to haunt. Eventually she will write in dust and manipulate a Ouija board, assuming the appearance of "the body she had died in, thin and scarred by needle holes." She is not one to let the physical defeat her, even when her preternaturally gorgeous American nieces (who resemble a young Elspeth and her twin) move in and slowly befriend a bewildered and grieving Robert. The description of those nieces, Julia and Valentina, might fit a pair of funerary statues: short, thin and pale, with white-blond hair and a tendency to hold each other's hands. They mirror each other even inside, where Valentina's heart sits on the right rather than the left and symmetry causes her a number of life-threatening health problems. Valentina is known as the nicer sister; perhaps inevitably, Robert finds himself falling for her, as she does for him. He is then in the awkward position of loving two women - one a living virgin, the other a phantom with an agenda. When Robert says of Elspeth's ghost, "her ideas have other ideas hiding inside them," it is an ominous observation, especially as Valentina enlists her help to break away from Julia. Niffenegger's characters are selfish, messy, vulnerable and sometimes crazed, all under the attractive veneer of artistic and contemplative impulses. They don't live up to what others might consider their potential. Valentina wants to be a fashion designer but allows Julia's lack of ambition and general bossiness to keep her in a kind of perpetual adolescence. Martin is brilliant at languages, but his O.C.D.-imposed confinement means he translates digitally submitted texts and constructs elaborate crossword puzzles destined to die along with the daily paper. Even the most self-absorbed characters win a deep compassion; it's possible to root for every one, even as you want to shake some sense into them all. When he thinks of his wife, Martin misses her "roundness, he loved the warmth and heft and curve of her"; he even misses her snoring. Prickly Julia has her moments of kindness as she tries to help Martin. In part because of this emotional generosity, the novel is intimately and subtly humorous, as lovers banter and the narrative voice winks at human frailty. Put on a plummy British accent to pronounce "symmetry" and "cemetery" and discover a pun in the title. THE ending depends on some unsettling authorial choices. With two sets of twins and the supernatural in play, there are sure to be buried secrets and cases of mistaken identity. Although there are plenty of hints along the way, it may be helpful to draw a chart to track the inevitable reversals. Valentina's plan for escape is fantastical, its execution shocking - all to the author's credit. "Symmetry'' rises above concept and into the heady air of artistry, where just about anything is believable. When Robert began his thesis, he envisioned Highgate as "a prism through which he could view Victorian society at its most sensationally, splendidly, irrationally excessive . . . a theater of mourning, a stage set of eternal repose." In this novel, it is much more than that, a place where the symmetry of a prism yields to the natural and emotional forces that distort the careful plans of cemetery designers and, by extension, anyone who dares to feel. The growth of tree roots raises a gravestone off the ground; a jealous prank changes life (and death) for two generations of twins. Repose is overrated anyway. Lovers of Niffenegger's past work should rejoice. This outing may not be as blindly romantic as "The Time Traveler's Wife," but it is mature, complex and convincing - a dreamy yet visceral tale of loves both familial and erotic, a search for Self in the midst of obsession with an Other. "Her Fearful Symmetry" is as atmospheric and beguiling as a walk through Highgate itself. Niffenegger digs deep into various forms of love, including the oppressive closeness of twins. Susann Cokal, the author of the novels "Mirabilis" and "Breath and Bones," is a frequent contributor to the Book Review.

Guardian Review

Like Henry David Thoreau, Audrey Niffenegger seems to view time as but the stream in which her characters go a'fishing. Her enormously popular first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife , was the story of a man who involuntarily time-travels through his own life. Widely hailed as wonderfully original, this device essentially reworked Kurt Vonnegut's conceit in Slaughterhouse-Five of becoming "unstuck in time". In her long-awaited second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry , Niffenegger angles in time's stream once again, fishing for meaning. Attempting to tell a haunting ghost story about immortality and history with metaphysical overtones, all she manages is theosophy. In a note to the reader, Niffenegger candidly, if perhaps unwisely, admits before the novel begins that her story was full of false starts. First "it was about a man who can't leave his apartment, and a girl who visits him. Then it was about twin girls whose aunt dies [. . .] One day a ghost appeared in the book," and so forth. Instead of abandoning these notions, Niffenegger thriftily stitched them all together, and the result is the patchwork it sounds. Martin, the man who can't leave his apartment, has such severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that he drives his beloved wife away. In order to join his story with the twins whose aunt dies, Niffenegger expediently places the aunt in the flat below Martin's in Highgate, overlooking the cemetery. The aunt, Elspeth Goblin, is herself a twin, and she's dying prematurely of cancer. She leaves her flat to her twin sister's two American daughters, whom she's never met, on the entirely credible condition that they come to live in it for a year. As she's also left them millions - Elspeth is a rare-book dealer, obviously a far more lucrative profession than I realised - and one of the twins, Julia, doesn't much feel like going to university or getting a job or doing anything except boss her twin Valentina around, this is convenient. Aunt Elspeth, of course, is the ghost in the flat, and Niffenegger works extremely hard for almost 400 pages to construct a story out of this assemblage of inklings, trying to make it about identity (in addition to "the delights and inconveniences of mental illness and immortality", as the reader's note tells us). But the twins' problems are specific to twindom - they are so inseparable that they are rendered infantile to the point of idiocy - which makes it impossible to draw any universal conclusions from their so-called troubles, except that arrested adolescents are universally tiresome. The twins' predicament is even more rigged because it is only produced by the expedient of Niffenegger having ensured that they don't need to earn a living. She manoeuvres them into the flat, gives them sufficient funds to be useless, sets a rule that says they have to stay there, and then asks us to see this as a metaphysical state of entrapment and possessiveness, rather than an egregiously clumsy narrative contrivance. Having trapped them in the flat, she then sends Elspeth to haunt them, for reasons that are meant to be mysterious, but become unpredictable only by virtue of being ludicrous. Novels with unsympathetic characters need to offer the reader something else: a gripping plot, intellectual gravitas, stylistic delights, something to compensate for making you read 400 pages about people whom in real life you would cross the street to avoid. With the honourable exception of Martin, who emerges as a moving study of agoraphobia and OCD (although even his resolution feels rushed and unearned), Niffenegger relies on a series of increasingly contrived twists to resolve her baroque plot, up to and including suddenly having all the characters conclude that Valentina is suicidal - despite the fact that the narrative spends a great deal of time inside Valentina's head and we never witness a single suicidal thought. Nevertheless, the novel's entire resolution depends on the reader believing this abrupt announcement. Other than Martin, the novel's most vivid character is Highgate Cemetery. Having decided to set her novel in it, Niffenegger worked there as a guide for a year. She learned her way convincingly around the cemetery, but she's less certain outside its gates. My favourite moment is when an English character announces "I'll be with you in a jim-jam", but I was also extremely surprised that Julia was able to find American chicken noodle soup at Tesco (trust me, it can't be done). Instead of fabricating ghosts and faux-Englishmen, it's a shame that Niffenegger didn't just cut away all the cobwebby Halloween trappings and write a moving, realistic story about a man with OCD who is trapped for real, rather than ersatz, reasons in a flat overlooking a cemetery. She sustains a mood, but it is vaguely repellent, rather than enjoyably disquieting. Instead of a lingering, unforgettable ghost story, this is the novelistic equivalent of a cut-rate seance, a parlour game complete with Ouija boards and cheap theatrics, as unconvincing as knuckles rapping under tables. To order Her Fearful Symmetry for pounds 17.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to Caption: article-niffeneggerrev.1 Like Henry David Thoreau, Audrey Niffenegger seems to view time as but the stream in which her characters go a'fishing. Her enormously popular first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife , was the story of a man who involuntarily time-travels through his own life. Widely hailed as wonderfully original, this device essentially reworked Kurt Vonnegut's conceit in Slaughterhouse-Five of becoming "unstuck in time". In her long-awaited second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry , Niffenegger angles in time's stream once again, fishing for meaning. Attempting to tell a haunting ghost story about immortality and history with metaphysical overtones, all she manages is theosophy. Martin, the man who can't leave his apartment, has such severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that he drives his beloved wife away. In order to join his story with the twins whose aunt dies, Niffenegger expediently places the aunt in the flat below Martin's in Highgate, overlooking the cemetery. The aunt, Elspeth Goblin, is herself a twin, and she's dying prematurely of cancer. She leaves her flat to her twin sister's two American daughters, whom she's never met, on the entirely credible condition that they come to live in it for a year. As she's also left them millions - Elspeth is a rare-book dealer, obviously a far more lucrative profession than I realised - and one of the twins, Julia, doesn't much feel like going to university or getting a job or doing anything except boss her twin Valentina around, this is convenient. - Sarah Churchwell.

Kirkus Review

Twin sisters inherit a London flat, and a bundle of baggage, from their mother's long-estranged twin. Elspeth has expired at 44 of cancer, leaving her younger lover and neighbor Robert bereft and obsessed with her memory. Robert is entrusted with her diaries and named executor of her will, which bequeaths her flat and substantial cash reserves to her 20-year-old twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. Elspeth's twin sister Edie and her husband Jack, a Chicago banker, receive nothing and are expressly forbidden to visit the flat. Presumably, Elspeth's hostility stems from the fact that, 20 years before, Edie had eloped with Jack, then Elspeth's fianc, and fled with him to Chicago. When the girls move to London, their own sibling rivalry escalates. Julia dominates minutes-younger Valentina, forcing her to share a life of indolence rather than pursue her ambition to be a fashion designer. Robert, a perennial doctorate candidate writing his thesis on the historic 19th-century cemetery Highgate, is intimately familiar with all manner of Victorian morbidity, including the extreme measures taken to avoid being buried alive. Robert introduces the twins to the all-volunteer staff of Highgate, where many luminaries, including Karl Marx and George Eliot, are buried. Valentina is drawn to Robert, who finds her resemblance to Elspeth uncanny, unnerving and ultimately irresistible. Julia befriends upstairs neighbor Martin, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe whose wife, finally fed up with his draconian rituals, has just left him. Meanwhile, Elspeth has returned to her former flat, training her ghostly self to communicate with the occupants. Only Valentina can see her, and she enlists her aunt's aid in getting free of Julia. The manner in which Elspeth accomplishes Valentina's liberation, and the mind-boggling double cross revealed in the diaries, are breathtakingly far-fetched. Gimmickry, supernatural and otherwise, blunts what could have been an incisive inquiry into the mysteries and frustrations of too-close kinship from the talented Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife, 2003, etc.). Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

In Niffenegger's ( follow-up to her best-selling debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), also available from Recorded Books, she again shows her skill at portraying quirky, flawed, and endearing characters. Twenty-year-old twins Julia and Valentina cross the Atlantic to move into their aunt's London flat upon her death. The flat backs up to Highgate Cemetery, a setting that serves as the perfect backdrop for this gothic ghost story. Actress/Audie Award winner Bianca Amato gives a masterly performance, bringing out the subtleties of each persona. Recommended for all listeners, especially fans of Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale and Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden. [The Scribner: S. & S. hc, which published in October 2009, was a New York Times best seller; the pb will release in September 2010.-Ed.]-Lisa Anderson, Metropolitan Community Coll. Lib., Omaha (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The End Espeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup. Later he would remember walking down the hospital corridor with the cup of horrible tea in his hand, alone under the fluorescent lights, retracing his steps to the room where Elspeth lay surrounded by machines. She had turned her head towards the door and her eyes were open; at first Robert thought she was conscious. In the seconds before she died, Elspeth remembered a day last spring when she and Robert had walked along a muddy path by the Thames in Kew Gardens. There was a smell of rotted leaves; it had been raining. Robert said, "We should have had kids," and Elspeth replied, "Don't be silly, sweet." She said it out loud, in the hospital room, but Robert wasn't there to hear. Elspeth turned her face towards the door. She wanted to call out, Robert , but her throat was suddenly full. She felt as though her soul were attempting to climb out by way of her oesophagus. She tried to cough, to let it out, but she only gurgled. I'm drowning. Drowning in a bed ...She felt intense pressure, and then she was floating; the pain was gone and she was looking down from the ceiling at her small wrecked body. Robert stood in the doorway. The tea was scalding his hand, and he set it down on the nightstand by the bed. Dawn had begun to change the shadows in the room from charcoal to an indeterminate grey; otherwise everything seemed as it had been. He shut the door. Robert took off his round wire-rimmed glasses and his shoes. He climbed into the bed, careful not to disturb Elspeth, and folded himself around her. For weeks she had burned with fever, but now her temperature was almost normal. He felt his skin warm slightly where it touched hers. She had passed into the realm of inanimate objects and was losing her own heat. Robert pressed his face into the back of Elspeth's neck and breathed deeply. Elspeth watched him from the ceiling. How familiar he was to her, and how strange he seemed. She saw, but could not feel, his long hands pressed into her waist -- everything about him was elongated, his face all jaw and large upper lip; he had a slightly beakish nose and deep-set eyes; his brown hair spilled over her pillow. His skin was pallorous from being too long in the hospital light. He looked so desolate, thin and enormous, spooned around her tiny slack body; Elspeth thought of a photograph she had seen long ago in National Geographic , a mother clutching a child dead from starvation. Robert's white shirt was creased; there were holes in the big toes of his socks. All the regrets and guilts and longings of her life came over her. No , she thought. I won't go. But she was already gone, and in a moment she was elsewhere, scattered nothingness. The nurse found them half an hour later. She stood quietly, taking in the sight of the tall youngish man curled around the slight, dead, middle-aged woman. Then she went to fetch the orderlies. Outside, London was waking up. Robert lay with his eyes closed, listening to the traffic on the high street, footsteps in the corridor. He knew that soon he would have to open his eyes, let go of Elspeth's body, sit up, stand up, talk. Soon there would be the future, without Elspeth. He kept his eyes shut, breathed in her fading scent and waited. Copyright (c) 2009 by Audrey Niffenegger Last Letter The letters arrived every two weeks. They did not come to the house. Every second Thursday, Edwina Noblin Poole drove six miles to the Highland Park Post Office, two towns away from her home in Lake Forest. She had a PO box there, a small one. There was never more than one letter in it. Usually she took the letter to Starbucks and read it while drinking a venti decaf soy latte. She sat in a corner with her back to the wall. Sometimes, if she was in a hurry, Edie read the letter in her car. After she read it she drove to the parking lot behind the hotdog stand on 2nd Street, parked next to the Dumpster and set the letter on fire. "Why do you have a cigarette lighter in your glove compartment?" her husband, Jack, asked her. "I'm bored with knitting. I've taken up arson," Edie had replied. He'd let it drop. Jack knew this much about the letters because he paid a detective to follow his wife. The detective had reported no meetings, phone calls or email; no suspicious activity at all, except the letters. The detective did not report that Edie had taken to staring at him as she burned the letters, then grinding the ashes into the pavement with her shoe. Once she'd given him the Nazi salute. He had begun to dread following her. There was something about Edwina Poole that disturbed the detective; she was not like his other subjects. Jack had emphasised that he was not gathering evidence for a divorce. "I just want to know what she does," he said. "Something is...different." Edie usually ignored the detective. She said nothing to Jack. She put up with it, knowing that the overweight, shiny-faced man had no way of finding her out. The last letter arrived at the beginning of December. Edie retrieved it from the post office and drove to the beach in Lake Forest. She parked in the spot farthest from the road. It was a windy, bitterly cold day. There was no snow on the sand. Lake Michigan was brown; little waves lapped the edges of the rocks. All the rocks had been carefully arranged to prevent erosion; the beach resembled a stage set. The parking lot was deserted except for Edie's Honda Accord. She kept the motor running. The detective hung back, then sighed and pulled into a spot at the opposite end of the parking lot. Edie glanced at him. Must I have an audience for this? She sat looking at the lake for a while. I could burn it without reading it . She thought about what her life might have been like if she had stayed in London; she could have let Jack go back to America without her. An intense longing for her twin overcame her, and she took the envelope out of her purse, slid her finger under the flap and unfolded the letter. Dearest e, I told you I would let you know -- so here it is -- goodbye. I try to imagine what it would feel like if it was you -- but it's impossible to conjure the world without you, even though we've been apart so long. I didn't leave you anything. You got to live my life. That's enough. Instead I'm experimenting -- I've left the whole lot to the twins. I hope they'll enjoy it. Don't worry, it will be okay. Say goodbye to Jack for me. Love, despite everything, e Edie sat with her head lowered, waiting for tears. None came, and she was grateful; she didn't want to cry in front of the detective. She checked the postmark. The letter had been mailed four days ago. She wondered who had posted it. A nurse, perhaps. She put the letter into her purse. There was no need to burn it now. She would keep it for a little while. Maybe she would just keep it. She pulled out of the parking lot. As she passed the detective, she gave him the finger. Driving the short distance from the beach to her house, Edie thought of her daughters. Disastrous scenarios flitted through Edie's mind. By the time she got home she was determined to stop her sister's estate from passing to Julia and Valentina. Jack came home from work and found Edie curled up on their bed with the lights off. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Elspeth died," she told him. "How do you know?" She handed him the letter. He read it and felt nothing but relief. That's all , he thought. It was only Elspeth all along . He climbed onto his side of the bed and Edie rearranged herself around him. Jack said, "I'm sorry, baby," and then they said nothing. In the weeks and months to come, Jack would regret this; Edie would not talk about her twin, would not answer questions, would not speculate about what Elspeth might have bequeathed to their daughters, would not say how she felt or let him even mention Elspeth. Jack wondered, later, if Edie would have talked to him that afternoon, if he had asked her. If he'd told her what he knew, would she have shut him out? It hung between them, afterwards. But now they lay together on their bed. Edie put her head on Jack's chest and listened to his heart beating. "Don't worry, it will be okay."...I don't think I can do this. I thought I would see you again. Why didn't I go to you? Why did you tell me not to come? How did we let this happen? Jack put his arms around her. Was it worth it? Edie could not speak. They heard the twins come in the front door. Edie disentangled herself, stood up. She had not been crying, but she went to the bathroom and washed her face anyway. "Not a word," she said to Jack as she combed her hair. "Why not?" "Because." "Okay." Their eyes met in the dresser mirror. She went out, and he heard her say, "How was school?" in a perfectly normal voice. Julia said, "Useless." Valentina said, "You haven't started dinner?" and Edie replied, "I thought we might go to Southgate for pizza." Jack sat on the bed feeling heavy and tired. As usual, he wasn't sure what was what, but at least he knew what he was having for dinner. Copyright (c) 2009 by Audrey Niffenegger Excerpted from Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.