The Weird Sisters
By Eleanor Brown
Read by Kirsten Potter
Paperback Feb 07, 2012 | 384 Pages
E-Book Jan 20, 2011 | 368 Pages
Audiobook Download: Jan 20, 2011 | 660 Minutes
Lit Fic with Religious undertones.
Library Download, no remuneration exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
The Andreas sisters were raised on books – their family motto might as well be, ‘There’s no problem a library card can’t solve.’
Their father, a renowned, eccentric professor of Shakespearean studies, named them after three of the Bard’s most famous characters: Rose (Rosalind – As You Like It), Bean (Bianca – The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia – King Lear), but they have inherited those characters’ failures along with their strengths.
Now the sisters have returned home to the small college town where they grew up – partly because their mother is ill, but mostly because their lives are falling apart and they don’t know where to go next.
Rose, a staid mathematics professor, has the chance to break away from her quiet life and join her devoted fiance in England, if she could only summon up the courage to do more than she’s thought she could. Bean left home as soon as she could, running to the glamour of New York City, only to come back ashamed of the person she has become. And Cordy, who has been wandering the country for years, has been brought back to earth with a resounding thud, realizing it’s finally time for her to grow up.
The sisters never thought they would find the answers to their problems in each other, but over the course of one long summer, they find that everything they’ve been running from – each other, their histories, and their small hometown – might offer more than they ever expected. http://www.eleanor-brown.com/the-weird-sisters/
I was interested in this book because it is about a family with parents who are focused on one thing and who have three sisters with about the same age spread as my own family. This reminded me of my own family. My parents were about music and their faith, this family is about reading, Shakespeare in particular, and faith. In this story the three girls are named after women in Shakespeare from different plays but refer to themselves as the Weird Sisters or the Witches from MACBETH. While they don’t boil much there is a lot of trouble and turmoil simmering in their lives.
I thought the parental focus would be Shakespear and reading, and the faith thing was a surprise I did not see in the description of the book on the library site. I probably would not have chosen it had I known. But, while religion is a theme it’s less about Christianity and more about morality. I kept waiting for the “Come to Jesus” part, but I was spared the attempt at conversion. In an online Q & A (see below) the author discusses her original intent of the story be more religion-themed, but having changed her focus with the father’s character taking more shape as a Shakespeare scholar. I think having the siblings theme, the Shakespeare theme and the faith theme all important diluted the impact of the story.
The personalities and roles of the sisters are kind of similar to my own. As are the way the sisters relate. At one point the narrator says, “See, we love each other. We just don’t like each other very much.” http://www.eleanor-brown.com/the-weird-sisters/
I think a lot of families sibling relationships are like this.
This started off well, but I spent most of the novel trying to figure out the point of view. Apparently,the author knew this would be an issue, and an unusual voice so there is a bit about it on the author’s website.
The novel is written in first person plural, narrated from the collective perspective of the three sisters. How did you make this stylistic choice? What is its effect?
Like any writer, I have done a lot of playing around with different styles and voices, and I noticed that while there were people doing first and third, and even, rarely, second-person narration, almost no one did first person plural. When I mentioned I was working on something in this voice, a professor and friend of
mine mentioned Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, and I immediately went and read it. It’s a tricky voice, and I had to devise a lot of rules for how to use it – how to make it readable and noticeable without its being disruptive.
I chose it because this is a story about family, and one of the ideas I wanted to raise is that we carry our families of origin with us always. They helped form the way in which we see the world, for better or worse, and no matter how we may feel about them now, they are part of us. Even though Rose and Bean and Cordy are not close, they cannot separate themselves from their common history.
If the writer was working to make it readable some thought should have been given to how it would sound in an audio-recording too. There’s something different about how it sounds when someone says (hypothetically) “Sister A, B, and/or C would think later how OUR mother would feel” about her action.” Who was this fourth entity speaking? Was there a ghost sister; a fourth of whom the reader is unaware? Since it is not angel-on-my-shoulder-present-tense, thank goodness, I entertained the idea that perhaps one sister with a monarchy-complex is reminiscing about this using the “royal we,” or one would die in the story and then provide the narrative. Regardless of intention, it was distracting.
But, I have to hand it to the author for attempting something of this nature. It did not ruin, but rather detracted, from the experience. Red herring foreshadowing was also irksome.
The author (in the same Q & A section referenced above points out that she is not a Shakespeare scholar. The father in the book pretty much speaks in Shakespeare quotes, All. The. Time. The rest of the family speaks back to him, and often to each other thus. Occasionally he actually just speaks to his wife or child, but usually his speech comes straight from a play, with the sonnets not considered by him as being quite up to snuff. Perhaps in the book each quote is labeled by play, but in the audio they are not. Taking the quote out of context doesn’t always work for me, and not having read the entire body of work I feel I missed some meaning.
The birth order role is also important to the theme. I don’t know how much I believe it but the parallels to my experience are remarkable. It only shows how all families are dysfunctional somehow or, as I like to say, “Everyone screws up their kids their own way.”
The mother’s cancer is the superficial reason everyone returns home to the nest, but there are more reasons the women return to their girlhood home. For one it is control and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on, for the other it’s because she is in trouble financially and for the third, she is just in trouble. And, I think they are each trying to forensically understand how they became who they are. It is a coming of age story in this way. But, as a personality the mother is the least effective parent and the least explored personality.
If you have siblings, in particular sisters, this might shed light back onto your personal familial experience, no matter how successful or placid.
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