The Miracle and Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets. Sarah Miller. 2019. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence of the prologue: In an empty nursery, behind two woven wire fences topped with barbed wire, five nine-year-old girls waited for their father.
Premise/plot: Sarah Miller’s newest book is a biography of the Dionne quintuplets: Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, and Marie who were born on May 28, 1934. Their arrival and survival captivated and fascinated the world at large not just for weeks, months, or even years but for decades. Their birth thrust them into fame, a fame that they could hardly hope to escape. The Dionne parents didn’t ask for it, nor their older siblings—or younger siblings that would follow. The county, country, nation, world deemed the parents incapable of raising the quintuplets. It wasn’t just that they would need help or support—nurses, nannies, doctors, all of which would take money. No they were judged by the crowd, the mob, society to be unfit to decide how to raise these five. They were not to have any say in the day to day decisions or the decisions that would prove more significant and lasting. They were begrudgingly allowed to visit—if they were deemed healthy enough—but the children did not belong to them or with them. When the parents finally did get custody of the quintuplets, when they were allowed to live with their parents for the first time, it would prove difficult and challenging. There would always be a strain, a strangeness. The quintuplets would always, always relate to one another best. For better or worse.
Life is a miracle. All life is a miracle. The quintuplets birth was miraculous certainly. But it was also tragic by most anybody’s standards. No matter their age—babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, adults—challenges plagued them. It didn’t have to be, a tragedy of its own. Their strange upbringing, the fame and attention, did not prepare them for life, for the real world, to live full lives apart from one another. No one should be treated as a spectacular spectacular.
My thoughts: Incredibly sad, that is how I’d describe this one. I expected ups and downs. Perhaps more downs than ups based on the title. But this one was all downs. The sad thing is that in retrospect some of the downs turned out to be more “up” than previously thought.
Miller pieced together the story well from two extremes. The “facts” as seen from both sides are far, far apart. Many sources seem to exaggerate and play around somewhat loosely with black and white facts. It must have been challenging to research and not take sides and form strong opinions. But Miller did a good job in my opinion. If I was slow to finish (I started this one in August) it was because the book was so bleak. Biographies are like this sometimes.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews