The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I've found myself suing the words, "I was listening to NPR..." more and more lately.  Maybe it's a function of my advancing age, or just that I refuse to watch television news, but I've got my radio tuned more and more to NPR regardless of when I am in the car.  I always listened to the headlines on my way to and from work, but lately I've found myself tuning in at odd time when they are talking about Kenyan tribal music, or why Americans may soon be eating only genetically engineered bananas, or some such.  One of the things that I discovered recently was the book The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown.  I heard an interview with the author, in which she described her process for writing the novel, as well as some of the themes that she was trying to address.

The Weird Sisters is the story of three sister (duh)-Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia.  Their father is a Shakespearean scholar, who communicates with them mostly through quotations direct from the Bard.  They all make their way back to their childhood home when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, though that is not the real reason any of them makes the journey.  Rosalind, an academic like her father, has always lived nearby, but comes to live at home after her fiance takes a fellowship at Oxford.  Bianca, the middle sister, loads up her beater and drives home from New York, where she unsuccessfully tried to live the city life on a secretary's income.  Cordelia, the youngest, finds her way home after years of traveling around the country at a whim, drifting here and there in what's left of the counterculture.  To say that the three sisters have a complicated relationship with each other is rather an understatement.  They each fulfill the stereotypical role of the oldest, middle, and youngest child.  While they obviously care deeply for each other, they don't appear to like each other, which is actually the tagline on the book jacket.

I found this book to be very much in line with what we are calling women's fiction.  The characters are all searching in their own way for connection-with each other, with their parents, with the various men in their lives.  What makes this book different than the others is the tie in with Shakespeare.  I don't know if it actually is more literary, or just seems that way because of the frequent mentions of the Bard,  but it feels like there is a little more meat in this story than in some women's fiction. 

But here's my problem-not only do the sisters not really like each other, but I found myself not really liking them that much.  They were all flawed, which I realize was the point.  They were all failures, which I realize was the point.  But I kept finding myself wanting to tell them, "Grow up and talk to each other!" or "Get over yourselves and move on with your life!" or "Stop whining-move to England already!"  Despite not really liking them much, I did find myself caring what happened to them.  And Brown did a good job of not falling into the easy traps.  None of them have the perfect resolution to their issues, though all of them found some happiness and satisfaction.  Overall, this is a perfectly pleasant read, but without any real profundity.


  1. Hear, hear! This was a book that I really *wanted* to like (Shakespeare! sisters! scholars!) and ended up finishing because I couldn't believe it wouldn't get better. I did a brief review of it over on my blog. Did the collective point of view bother you or not? I found myself rarely able to get past it.

  2. It seemed like a literary affectation, rather than anything that served a real purpose in the plot. And for the first few chapters of the book I kept waiting to find out there was a brother, or a secret bastard sister or something...


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