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Winner of the National Book Award

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  2,038 ratings  ·  329 reviews
Set in Rhode Island, Winner of the National Book Award tells the story of twins who could not be more different. Abigail Mather is a woman of passionate sensual and sexual appetites, while her sister, the book loving local librarian Dorcas, lives a quiet life of the mind. But when the sisters are sought out by the predatory and famous poet, Guy DeVilbiss, who introduces th
Paperback, 336 pages
Published October 1st 2004 by Picador (first published September 5th 2000)
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May 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2010
This afternoon I was getting ready to go to a dinner party up in Riverdale (for non–New Yorkers, that's about as far from Brooklyn as, say, Rhode Island). I was late, as I always am. And as I was about to dash out the door, I had a moment of honest-to-goodness panic when I realized that my purse was so light because it didn't have a book in it. That's right, I finished The Alcoholic this morning, and I had nothing particular picked out to read next, and there I was facing two hour-plus subway ri ...more
MJ Nicholls
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: distaff, merkins, novels
In most twin-sister pairings, there is the one who rides down the motorhighway in a Cadillac with her pantaloons on her head, hoot-yelling ‘Born to Run’ while her rock-drummer husband shoots hot loot into his eyelids, and the one who stays indoors eating square sausage listening to the lovely Martin Jarvis read from AS Byatt’s latest novel. My own twin sisters are no different: Xanthippe likes nothing better than to roar along the Ayr-to-Coatbridge byroads in her Citroen 2CV screaming along to t ...more
Griffin Betz
Aug 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-fiction
"Winner" is a book that suffers from bad advertising. I was promised a black comedy. "Riotous. Hugely funny..." and "The funniest novel I have read, possibly ever" appear right there on the cover.

The book was certainly sarcastic. It was caustic and biting but there was very little in the book that I could laugh at in good conscience. (And honestly, during reading, I wasn't inclined to do so.) In many ways, it was more like a car wreck on the highway - horrific but engrossing - than anything else
Sep 01, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Laura by: Myself. Silly me.
Perverse of me, I know, but I don't find gang rape, anorexia, and domestic violence to be the stuff of comedy--- and yet this book is trumpeted on its cover as " Riotous... hugely funny..., " [Janet Maslin], "The funniest novel I have read, possibly ever..." [Augusten Burroughs.] "Hilarious black comedy..." The Miami Herald. {From this we may deduce that blurbers don't really read the books they describe.) Oh, this book is black, all right, and it tries to be funny. It's a kind of Very Depressed ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jul 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: darkandfunny
Jincy Willett, author of the short story collection Jenny and the Jaws of Life — which includes "Ask Betty," possibly the funniest short story ever written — published this novel in 2003.

Maybe I should be cautious about recommending this book. I suggested it to my sister, who in turn suggested it to her women's reading group — some of whom, after reading the first chapters, were ready to riot. And as you can see from the other reviews, it's not everyone's cup of tea.

So yes, it's "politically inc
Cindy C
Sep 10, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: readin2007
Recommended from a list of "Best Books You've Never Heard Of" from the New York Times.

Whoever recommended this particular book for the list was way way off the mark.

This is also the book that made me realize that I should go to the library more often to avoid wasting money on horrible, pointless books. The author promises interesting, wicked characters, but only provides brief, shadowy outlines. This book has the plot of a Margaret Atwood or Oates novel without the layers of complexity or any
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
The inimitable narrator, Dorcas (Dork) of this…well, fable, really… says,
“[Many postmodern writers] have little respect for character. [They] carry on as though the human personality were some trivial thing, and it’s not, it’s not, it’s everything. It’s the great mystery…We can make predictions about our own behavior based on what we’ve done in the past, and how we feel about it now, and what niggling horrors we come awake to at three o’clock in the morning, but they’re only predictions.
We don’
Jul 15, 2010 rated it liked it
Paradoxically, ironically, or just plain unfortunately, I actually found this book disappointing at first because of the TOTES OTT blurbs on the front of the book. "The funniest novel I have read, possibly ever," exuberates Augusten Burroughs. Well, Augusten needs to get out more—or, more accurately, stay in reading more.

Despite this lackluster start, as I got into the novel I liked it better and better. Dorcas and Abigail are the classic Gothic characters, Merricat and Constance if they were in
Ken Montville
May 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
I really should have put this in the "I stopped reading" category but I hated it so much that I felt I needed to write a review.

It is one of the most depressing books I've read, in memory. First, it revolves around a plot of massive domestic violence. Sad, in it's own right, Sadder when it is the main plot device for a supposed satire or comedy of manners of a New England "Yankee" town and family.

This book fails, utterly, at being the least bit funny or even satirical (and I will admit to not b
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Truly excellent novel! I'm baffled that I have never heard of Jincy Willett before now. I shall quote another reviewer who wrote, "This book is spectacularly wonderful, luridly wonderful, gaspingly wonderful, too wonderful, maybe, to even review." I, too, have no idea how to describe what is wonderful about this novel without taking away from its wonderfulness.*

*My only complaint was that the ending was no fun and felt somewhat contrived, but I confess that I am rarely satisfied with the endings
Sep 11, 2007 rated it liked it
If you pick this up to read it--read it with a sense of wry humor!
It's hyperbolic, sarcastic, and is meant to make fun of some of the very books that win the book awards.
Why didn't I give it more stars? Well, although I think I understand the 'poking-fun-at-a-genre humor', I didn't think it did the best job at it. Too many people read it who didn't get the sarcasm (me included at first) and so I don't think Willett did the novel she must have meant to.
Apr 01, 2010 rated it did not like it
It had some interesting parts and I could relate to the librarian's love of books, but overall I REALLY didn't like it. I was pleased by the intersting writing as it started. Soon into it, I got to a chapter all about someone's sexual perversions and I knew it was a mistake, but I had to see how it ended -my shortcoming when it comes to fiction- so I read the rest of the book- skimming and reading.

My advice: just don't start it.
a lot of the blurbs talk about how hilarious this was. I found parts of it funny but it was actually quite dark. the writing was skillful in that it starts out and you think, ok, the narrator is a twin. she's an asexual librarian, her fraternal twin sister is all about sex. neither one of them is particularly about love, but they both get taken in in that direction by the same predatory man. anyway, when the book starts you get the idea she's not too fond of her sister, but actually it turns out ...more
Laura Jane
Jun 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Dec 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book was a selection of the book club I belong to.

I usually prefer novels where I admire or at least sympathize with the protagonist or other characters. That was not the case here. Yet I enjoyed it enough to consider rating it at five stars. (I didn't, as I reserve five stars for the best of the best.) I wouldn't say I loved this book, but I did like it very much.

What was good about it? I loved the discussions of Dorcas, the narrator librarian, about books, reading, readers, writing and
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Winner of the National Book Award, is blurbed as “scabrously funny” and as a “sharp original satire.” I have to agree that the book is clever and bitingly witty – it tells the story of twin sisters, Dorcus and Abigail Mather, and of Abigail’s disastrous marriage – which led to murder (no spoilers – this is all in the first few pages). Dorcus, the dry and controlled librarian spinster to Abigail's fierce libido, tells the story and cuts down everything in her path. She has no patience for anyone’ ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Despite what the title insists, Jincey Willet’s fictional novel did not receive the national book award… or any other award for that matter. Doesn’t matter though. Accolades aren’t always necessary, and Jincey Willet is just one example of an underrated American author. Her latest novel oscillates between quirky and disturbing. The story, set in Rhode Island, chronicles the life of two twin sisters that are polar opposites. The story is narrated by the older sister, Dorcas; the cynical, intellec ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Uproariously funny, with a narrative voice uniquely, hysterically sarcastic and dry. It's all about tone, not punchlines, and probably not everyone's cup of tea, but the less you know going in, the better. I'll therefore shut up before unintentionally revealing more.
Brittany Larson
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I have many thoughts about this book. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

1. I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would. In fact, it wasn't until about two-thirds of the way through that it really started to strike a note with me. Then it became, in a way, brilliant.

2. Many people have categorized this book as "humor." That is absolutely baffling to me. Sure, there are some funny moments, but I would in no way classify this book as humorous. It is at LEAST just a tra
Sep 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I think people should ignore every blurb that's on the cover of this book. It is emphatically not the funniest novel I've ever read, or even close -- Augusten Burroughs and I have different ideas of what "funny" means, maybe? -- but I nonetheless thought it was very good.

I also don't know why people call this a dark comedy, either. There's a particular person's death foreshadowed throughout, but that death in and of itself isn't much of a joke. I actually was a little bit glad of the death; ther
Tarin Towers
I'm not sure what to say about this book except that it has one of the most original characters, speaking in one of the most original voices, that I have ever read. I loved "Dork" and her skewering of everyone and everything. Nothing is sacred -- except, everything is. Or something. The ridiculousness of the sublime, would be one way to put it.

Some of the characters in this book are completely hateful, and to some folks that could include Dorcas, our trusty narrator, and her twin sister, Abigai
Jan 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
People either love this book or they hate it. They either read it between hoots of laughter or with a quizzical look and a "I don't get it."

I admit I like dark humor, sardonic wit, disdainful eavesdropping and solitude, so I completely got prudish and prim Dorcus Mather's dry, caustic observations about New Englanders, relationships, books and her mympho twin sister. Jincy Willet has done for Rhode Island what Fannie Flagg and Florence King did for the South -- obsreved, recorded and poked at i
gwen g
Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The funniest thing about this book was its title. As one of the other commenters said, it really suffered from bad advertising -- if it had been billed as "biting" or "incredibly sarcastic" rather than "hilarious," maybe my expectations would have been different.

But as it stood, this story about the stereotypical brilliant spinster librarian was just so very meh. I liked Dorcas' character and clearly felt her revulsion for her twin sister, I liked the structure running parallel to the biography,
Emi Bevacqua
Apr 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Emi by: Time Magazine
Shelves: fiction
I think I would have gotten more out of this book if I hadn't read all the hyper blurbs all over the cover touting it as the funniest this and perfect that. Jincy Willett is an undeniably super witty writer, there were so many parts that had me laughing out loud. I really liked this story about fraternal twin sisters Dorcas the stereotypical sexless librarian and Abigail the sensual glutton, and the man who comes between them. My favorite parts were the hilarious descriptions of Rhode Islanders, ...more
Mar 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, comic
A better than average satire. The story of twin sisters - one who lives for yes and the other who lives for no and their titanic struggle with a really bad man. Not as hysterically funny as the blurb pants away but amusing in parts.

I maybe alone in rarely finding satire all that funny as it so often relies on parodies of characters who then become so lacking in nuance that they lose any humour. Willett’s funniest scenes for me are where she does retain some nuance especially the beginning of th
Merry Lee
Mar 10, 2013 rated it did not like it
I would have given this one less than a star if it were possible.

This book had 10 short reviews, eight of which described the book as funny, even hilarious. So there's an expectation you'll laugh at least a couple times, right?

The only way I would use this book and the word funny in the same sentence would be to say "It's funny that this book was desecribed as humorous since it's doesn't even make the mildly amusing scale." Unless you enjoy making fun of the town slut or find women-hating men
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it
I wish this wasn't advertised so strongly as a funny book. In fact, the cover quotes Augustan Burroughs calling it the funniest book he has read. Ever. Maybe this is funny to him because Burroughs' own life was just as disturbing, but for me, this was dark and so bizarrely twisted at times that the only reason I might laugh is out of uncomfortable awkwardness. Had I been not expecting humor, I would have liked it a lot more. The main character is a librarian who lives in Rhode Island- sold alrea ...more
Oct 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Despite how unappealing it sounds, I almost feel compelled to read it again, only to try to find the funny parts I seemed to have missed and that so many seem to have laughed, giggled and guffawed over. What did I miss? Willett exhausted herself establishing the characters so much that it was especially frustrating when they did something completely out of character. At times it didn't make sense to me at all.

I didn't abandon it midway, so I guess that means something.
Nov 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Beckie Wienheimer - great characters
Wow, I really enjoyed this book - a really engrossing read, even if it's a funky and unusual story. The best part, however, is the characterizations - she presents these twisted people so convincingly and with such compassion that you can't wait to find out what happens to them. My only reason for not giving it 5 stars was that the neding seemed rushed and glossed over - I felt like I needed it to tell me more so that I could savor the details of the lives of both sisters.
Lois Duncan
May 11, 2010 rated it liked it
I was really torn about how to rate this book. (The title is misleading, as it has nothing to do with winning the National Book Award; it's just a clever gimmick to make you pick it off the shelf.) It's very well written and both tragic and hysterically funny. I was definitely planning to give it a 4, but I found the ending somewhat of a let-down. Still, it's an entertaining and intriguing read.
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From the author's website: "An aging, bitter, unpleasant woman living in Escondido, California, who spends her days parsing the sentences of total strangers and her nights teaching and writing. Sometimes, late at night, in the dark, she laughs inappropriately." This is also the short bio on her character, Amy Gallup, on her blog in "The Writing Class."

Articles featuring this book

Susan Orlean, the author of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession and staff writer for The New Yorker, is back on bookshelves...
76 likes · 14 comments
“Reading was not an escape for her, any more than it is for me. It was an aspect of direct experience. She distinguished, of course, between the fictional world and the real one, in which she had to prepare dinners and so on. Still, for us, the fictional world was an extension of the real, and in no way a substitute for it, or refuge from it. Any more than sleeping is a substitute for waking." (Jincy Willett)” 8 likes
“I spent my next hour reshelving, and the next thirty minutes straightening out the Mc's and Mac's. Nobody on God's earth understands the Mc/Mac principle anymore. In order to do that, you have to be willing to think about something other than your genitals for a full minute.” 1 likes
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