One Two Three
ONE TWO THREE is not a perfect book, but it is written with such perfect style, perfect characterization, perfect plotting, fact, and imagination, that I can’t give it less than five stars.
The title characters are triplets, known to the world as Mab, Monday, and Mirabel, but to each other as One, Two, and Three, after the order of their birth and the number of syllables in their names. There, alone, you get the cleverness of this book – clever, occasionally hysterically funny, often downright heartbreaking, always unique.
The plot takes place in a small, fictitious town in an unnamed state and centers on a chemical plant that shut down seventeen years earlier after polluting the town’s water supply with enough toxicity to cause illness, death, and birth defects. The town died along with many of its citizens and has been floundering ever since.
The triplets’ mother, Nora, has fought all these years to bring a court case against the company, to no avail. Now, suddenly, the owners are back in town with plans to reopen the plant. The town is split – those desperate for jobs, financial security, and health insurance, versus those against the plant’s return at all cost.
The triplets, affected by toxic chemicals in utero, are living examples of the cost. All three are brilliant, but while Mab is perfectly normal, Monday is somewhere on the spectrum, and Mirabel is so physically handicapped that she is confined to a wheelchair with only the movement of one arm and hand, and can speak only through the voice of a tablet.
Sound morbid? Absolutely not. These three teenagers, rotating chapter voices, are as modern, as with-it, as upbeat and caring as ever. Their interaction with each other is one of the most beautiful aspects of this book.
My quibbles? For starters, ONE TWO THREE is long. I don’t mean that in page numbers, because how fabulous it is when a plot fills a book, which this one does. I mean long in terms of details. When a point here is being made, it is made and made and made. Had I been reading a print version, I’d have skimmed. Listening in the car, all I could do was shout, “I get it!” For another, it felt at first like I was reading a YA novel. The purpose of that did come clear, still. And finally, this book did push credulity for me for a few of the plot twists regarding the girls, particularly at the climactic end of the book.
The willing suspension of disbelief carried me through the last, three incredible narrators through the second, and as for the first? Well, the details might have been redundant, but they were so articulate and spot-on that, in the end, I had to forgive.
ONE TWO THREE has to be, flaws and all, one of my most admired books of 2021. I highly recommend it.