Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fresh insights into sibling rivalry

  • Print

The Tin Horse

By Janice Steinberg

Random House, 325 pages, $31

"EVERY sibling comes from a different family," declares one of the characters in this sweeping, multigenerational novel set in 1920s and '30s Los Angeles.

Somewhat reminiscent of Lisa See's subject matter, this flawed story centres on the abrupt disappearance of a female twin from a Jewish immigrant family.

Steinberg is a San Diego arts journalist. She has written five previous novels featuring a radio reporter and amateur sleuth, Margo Simon, including Death in a City of Mystics. Published in 1998, it tells of an accident involving Margo's mother on a trip to Israel.

At the outset of The Tin Horse, we meet the octogenarian Elaine Greenstein. Once a famous lawyer, she is planning to donate her personal papers to the archives of the local university. While going through her personal effects, Elaine comes upon several boxes from her late mother. Some of the contents jog her memory about what happened just before her twin sister, Barbara, vanished 65 years earlier.

As children, the twins were opposites. Barbara was pretty, vivacious and wild. Elaine was bespectacled, cerebral and shy. Overcome with recollections of Barbara, Elaine must decide whether or not to try to find her one last time.

The title refers to a tin figurine made by the twins' grandfather and given to Barbara as a child.

Told in the voice of Elaine, the first-person narrative is divided into two parts. The majority of the first half is a flashback of the twins' childhood, with every fourth chapter reverting to the present. This section has a feel of a chatty, effusive memoir, whereas the frank, lucid second half morphs into a coming-of-age tale, zeroing in on the twins' rivalries and differing interests.

Throughout the novel, Steinberg manages to evoke subtle differences in Elaine's voice as she ages from a skittish child overshadowed by her twin to a feisty, albeit slightly doddering senior. The novel also contains a wealth of material about the social history of the era and the Boyle Heights neighbourhood.

As well, a vibrant supporting cast enlivens the novel, including the character Phillip Marlowe borrowed from the pages of Raymond Chandler's famous crime novels.

In fact, the brief mention of a female Jewish lawyer in The Big Sleep inspired Steinberg to pattern her novel after such a character.

Yet Elaine's apparently seamless transition from high school to university in 1938 and later to law school raises several questions. For example: Why did her parents approve of her career choice despite their precarious finances a few years earlier? As a female legal student from a minority group, did she experience any prejudice or sexism? And how prevalent were university scholarships for women during the Second World War in an era when they were still encouraged to become teachers, nurses and secretaries?

Steinberg largely skirts these issues. Instead we are inundated with mundane details about Elaine's first day of school, her hapless grandfather and trips to the beach. Not only do these stories bog down the plot, but they may leave some readers champing at the bit.

The Tin Horse provides fresh insights into sibling rivalry. Nevertheless, had the novel focused more on Elaine's career struggles, it would have offered a more satisfying read.

Bev Sandell Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and editor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 J9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Drew Willy says team couldn't get anything going

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 070619 LIGHTNING ILLUMINATES AN ABANDONED GRAIN ELEVATOR IN THE VILLAGE OF SANFORD ABOUT 10PM TUESDAY NIGHT AS A LINE OF THUNDERSTORMS PASSED NEAR WINNIPEG JUST TO THE NORTH OF THIS  SITE.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you miss Grandma Elm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google