S O´ M E B O D Y. n. s. [some and body.] One; not nobody; a person indiscriminate and undetermined.
—A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
An enchanting, comic love letter to sibling rivalry and the English language.
From the author compared to Nora Ephron and Nancy Mitford, not to mention Jane Austen, comes a new novel celebrating the beauty, mischief, and occasional treachery of language.
The Grammarians are Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins who share an obsession with words. They speak a secret “twin” tongue of their own as toddlers; as adults making their way in 1980s Manhattan, their verbal infatuation continues, but this love, which has always bound them together, begins instead to push them apart. Daphne, copy editor and grammar columnist, devotes herself to preserving the dignity and elegance of Standard English. Laurel, who gives up teaching kindergarten to write poetry, is drawn, instead, to the polymorphous, chameleon nature of the written and spoken word. Their fraying twinship finally shreds completely when the sisters go to war, absurdly but passionately, over custody of their most prized family heirloom: Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.
Cathleen Schine has written a playful and joyful celebration of the interplay of language and life. A dazzling comedy of sisterly and linguistic manners, a revelation of the delights and stresses of intimacy, The Grammarians is the work of one of our great comic novelists at her very best.
KIRKUS, (STARRED REVIEW)
A literary twin experiment: At the heart of this comic novel about supersmart, language-obsessed sisters are profound questions about how close two human beings can be."Was there anyone who understood anyone else as well as she and Daphne understood each other? There was no need to explain or justify wanting to climb linoleum M.C. Escher stairs to live in a tenement their grandparents had probably moved out of the minute they could, because Daphne already understood. Understanding is love, Laurel thought." The darling redheaded twin daughters of Arthur and Sally Wolfe of Larchmont, New York, Laurel and Daphne invent their own language while still in the crib, then embrace English with a passion that lasts the rest of their lives. "Fugacious…oxters…promptuary….They played with the words as if they were toys...involving them in intrigues of love and friendship and bitter enmity." Elegant chapters, each headed with a classic definition from Samuel Johnson's dictionary, follow the identical pair through childhood to that post-collegiate tenement apartment where the first rumblings of what will come to be known as the Rift are heard. By the time of their double wedding, Laurel and Daphne are more aware of their differences than their similarities. As 17-minutes-younger Daphne becomes a famous language columnist and 17-minutes-older Laurel becomes a kindergarten teacher, then a mom, the power between them shifts dangerously—then real hostilities are launched during a disagreement about the relative importance of Fowler's Modern English Usage and The Chicago Manual of Style. As we've come to expect in 10 previous novels, Schine's (They May Not Mean To, but They Do, 2016, etc.) warmth and wisdom about how families work and don't work are as reliable as her wry humor, and we often get both together: "Michael suspected Larry was as smart as anyone, just not paying attention. Like a Galapagos tortoise, he had no need to pay attention. He had no predators. He was protected by an expansive carapace of good nature, money, and family status." This impossibly endearing and clever novel sets off a depth charge of emotion and meaning.
“The mother of the beguilingly unusual twins whose lives unfold in this sublime comic novel could not adore them more than I do. A singular delight for anyone who has ever marveled at the quirks and beauties and frustrations of English grammar, and a fascinating portrait of the passions and dramas of fierce familial love.” ―Sigrid Nunez, National Book Award–winning author of The Friend
“One might well expect a novel about dictionary-obsessed identical twins to throw off one clever, coruscating observation or bit of wordplay after another, like a kind of literary Catherine wheel. And The Grammarians certainly does that, and does it wonderfully well. Yet as I read on I found myself not only fascinated and amused―because, I must underline, it’s often hugely funny―but deeply moved, because this is also a novel of great and often aching feeling.” ―Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times–bestselling author of Dreyer’s English
“This is an utterly charming book, and yet more than that. It is a book of real people and their relationship―both to language and to each other. Fresh as a white sheet of paper, it is clean and lovely; an absolutely delightful read.” ―Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize–winning author