Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-11-15
- Reviewer: Staff
You don't have to have a sister or be a fan of the Bard to love Brown's bright, literate debut, but it wouldn't hurt. Sisters Rose (Rosalind; As You Like It), Bean (Bianca; The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia; King Lear)--the book-loving, Shakespeare-quoting, and wonderfully screwed-up spawn of Bard scholar Dr. James Andreas--end up under one roof again in Barnwell, Ohio, the college town where they were raised, to help their breast cancer–stricken mom. The real reasons they've trudged home, however, are far less straightforward: vagabond and youngest sib Cordy is pregnant with nowhere to go; man-eater Bean ran into big trouble in New York for embezzlement, and eldest sister Rose can't venture beyond the "mental circle with Barnwell at the center of it." For these pains-in-the-soul, the sisters have to learn to trust love--of themselves, of each other--to find their way home again. The supporting cast--removed, erudite dad; ailing mom; a crew of locals; Rose's long-suffering fiancé--is a punchy delight, but the stage clearly belongs to the sisters; Hamlet's witches would be proud of the toil and trouble they stir up. (Jan.)
A Shakespearean family reunion
Although she’s been writing for years, The Weird Sisters is Eleanor Brown’s first novel, and her joy at being published is almost palpable.
In a birth announcement of sorts, Brown posted a photo of an early copy of the book on her blog and gushed somewhat adorably about its beauty. “The paper is beautiful and doesn’t reproduce quite right in photos—it’s a beautiful pearlescent white that glitters in light,” she wrote.
It’s true—the cover is gorgeous. That’s nothing, though, compared to what’s inside this delicious, wholly original novel.
Brown laughs when teased about her blog post.
“There’s something about seeing the hardcover that just made it all feel very real and very close, and kind of brought home that I’d done something worth celebrating,” Brown says.
Indeed, The Weird Sisters is a book worth celebrating. Because their father is a renowned Shakespearean scholar, the Andreas family communicates largely through the words of the Bard. It is not unusual for them to drop Shakespearean quotes into a conversation about, say, wedding rings or what to eat for breakfast.
The three Andreas sisters—Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, each named for great Shakespearean characters—come home to the tiny college town where they grew up when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. Rosalind (or Rose) doesn’t have far to go, since she lives and teaches nearby in Columbus. Bianca (or Bean) comes home from her glitzy life in Manhattan after being disgraced at work. And the baby sister, Cordelia (Cordy), wanders home from her latest aimless road trip around America, broke, tired and pregnant.
The novel wonderfully captures how it feels to go home again—and all the bittersweet, mixed emotions that can come along with it. Who hasn’t visited the parents and immediately reverted to a sullen teenager, or been home for the holidays and run into an ex at the grocery store?
“The reason I was interested in the story of the Andreas sisters comes very much from my family in broad strokes,” says Brown, who has two sisters. “When we get back together, we tend to slip back into those roles.”
It’s a meaningful choice of theme for someone like Brown, who has lived all over the world and admits she has a constant longing to find a place where she wants to stay. Brown just moved from Florida to Colorado with her partner, writer J.C. Hutchins. She has also lived in England, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Philadelphia.
And yet, she admits that someone had to point out to her the dichotomy between her own peripatetic life and the focus on home in her book.
“I did have a psychology undergrad degree,” Brown laughs. “You’d think I would’ve picked up on that!”
Brown came late to Shakespeare, never really a fan until she studied at Oxford and got to see productions at the Globe and Stratford-upon-Avon. “That’s when I really fell in love with the language and stories,” she says.
Telling someone she’s written a book about a family that speaks in Shakespeare quotes causes people “to kind of get that look in their eye, like ‘I didn’t know there was going to be a quiz,’ ” she says. “But really this is about a family that is crippled by the fact that they’re not talking honestly and openly with each other using their own words. Every family has patterns that hold them back.”
In the Andreas’ case, that pattern includes a dad who wanders around the house muttering things like, “Marry, sir, ’tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers: therefore he that cannot lick his fingers goes not with me.”
“Here’s one of the problems with communicating in the words of a man who is not around to explain himself: It’s damn hard sometimes to tell what he was talking about,” the sisters say, in the book’s terrific first-person-plural voice. Capturing that voice—in which the sisters collectively tell the story—was no easy feat.
“It was tricky,” Brown says. “I had to kind of devise the rules; for example, how many sisters have to be in the scene to use that voice? Technically, it was really difficult, but I thought it was important because when people talk about their families, they always slip into ‘we.’ ”
So different in personality and life choices, Rose, Bean and Cordy find it complicated to be under one roof again. Bean owes thousands of dollars to her former employer. Rose is engaged to a fellow professor who wants to live in England, while she prefers to stick closer to home. Cordy has no job, no money, no college degree, no health insurance and a rapidly growing belly. How they reconnect—with themselves, each other and their parents—is the heart of this funny, warm story.
It also bears mentioning that The Weird Sisters is a book nerd’s nirvana: The whole family carries books with them wherever they go, and they read at any opportunity. Brown herself knocks off about 300 books in a good year, everything from romance to nonfiction. “Basically, I don’t go anywhere without a book in my hand,” she says.
None of this is surprising: The Weird Sisters is clearly written by a booklover. It’s irresistible and the ending, although satisfying, comes all too soon.