Whiskey and Charlie are twins born in Britain whose family moved to Australia when they were teens. The book opens with Charlie sitting with Whiskey in the hospital after an accident left Whiskey in a coma. Chapters with scenes at Whiskey’s bedside are written in sans serif type to distinguish them from the story of their growing up and then growing apart. That story is told in chapters titled by the alphabet in the words used to denote each letter in the alphabet, that is Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and so on. As children, the twins used that alphabet in their private language and William, the dominant twin, became Whiskey.
As Charlie at age 32 contemplates Whiskey’s likely death, he regrets how little he knows about his twin; this book is largely about his work to untangle his own inadequate choices in his life and the role that his view of his twin had in those choices. In very general terms, Whiskey was always more outgoing and becomes the more financially and socially successful twin. As an adult he is unlikeable as he cycles through girlfriends, socializes with vacuous and unappealing social climbers, and is disliked by the low-status people who work for him.
Charlie finds work he loves and does well as a teacher’s aide, but was never quite able to overcome the hurdles to become a teacher. He has a beautiful and appealing girlfriend who left Whiskey for him, but though she wants to get married, he is unable to make that commitment. Charlie’s reactions to various situations after Whiskey’s accident are often volatile and sometimes nonsensical; that sounds normal, but sometimes he seemed out of character.
Fitting the plot development into chapters with titles such as India, Lima, Quebec. Sierra, Uniform is a special challenge. I was surprised by how well that went, how naturally those names could be turned to the author’s need. On the other hand there was a plot development or two that came out of order so that the timeline was murky.
The development of the interactions between the twins over the years was nuanced and well-done. The author’s light touch and humor made this an appealing read. The world of long-term coma sufferers, the trauma suffered by family members, end-of-life decisions, and the roles of hospital personnel in such cases are among the topics explored. Occasionally the forays into these areas, particularly the end-of-life decision area, was unsatisfying.
My mother was in a coma for six weeks when I was 7-years-old as a result of an accident involving a train. She had brain damage and multiple broken bones, including her neck. This book makes me think how harrowing this must have been for family, particularly those old enough to wonder how the brain damage would affect her. Fortunately, though she was never the same, she recovered her capacity for kindness and love, she had sufficient physical recovery to resume running the household, and apparently never lost her amazing will and determination.
Annabel Smith, Whiskey & Charlie, Sourcebooks Landmark, 2015, 336 pages (I read the kindle version). It was originally published in 2012 in Australia, then 2014 in the US and is available from Amazon.