Would we have chosen to come back, knowing that it would be the three of us again, that all those secrets squeezed into one house would be impossible to keep? The answer is irrelevant – it was some kind of sick fate. We were destined to be sisters at birth, apparently we were destined to be sisters now, when we thought we had put all that behind us. – from The Weird Sisters –
The Andreas sisters are all grown up. The youngest, Cordelia (Cordy), has wandered the country for years, sleeping on the floors of strangers, swaying to the music at concerts, and floating through her life without goals. Bianca (Bean), the middle sister, fled their small Ohio college town for life in the Big Apple, but her dreams of a wealthy life among the glitter of the City have been crushed. Rosalind (Rose), the eldest, has always been the responsible one, choosing to stay close to home and her parents, taking a job as a professor (like her father), and resisting any change to her predictable life. When their mother, a gentle woman whose love permeates everything, falls ill with breast cancer…the three sisters are drawn back to their home town where their old relationships with each other surface.
Eleanor Brown’s debut novel, The Weird Sisters, is a wonderful story with big, complex characters. The Andreas family is a family of readers, encouraged by the eccentric father who peppers his speech with Shakespearean quotes and insisted on naming his three daughters after characters from Shakespeare’s plays. The sisters are beautifully crafted characters whose failures make them deeply human. But, perhaps what makes The Weird Sisters so compellingly readable is the relationships between the characters. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a sibling relationship, but especially those with sisters of their own, will recognize the ambivalence, petty jealousies, and ultimately the love that binds them each to the other. Who among us does not revert instantly to our childhood personalities and ways of behaving the moment we are all together again as a nuclear family? In Eleanor Brown’s amazing novel, that is exactly what happens when Cordy, Bean and Rose find themselves once again beneath the roof of their parent’s home. They each have grown into adults, yet it is their old ways of behaving that both join and separate them.
Who would Bean be if she dropped her beautiful mask? Who would Cordy be if she stepped up to the plate in her own life? Who would Rose be if she weren’t the responsible one anymore? – from The Weird Sisters –
As the youngest of three sisters, I found myself relating often to Brown’s astute and humorous observations.
Rose and Cordy stood by the door for a moment and stared at each other expectantly, until Cordy rolled her eyes and climbed into the middle. “The hump,” we had called it when were younger, because whoever sat there had to contend with the bump where her legs should go.
“I haven’t been the smallest for a long time,” Cordy complained as we squeezed her in on either side.
“You’re still the youngest,” Bean said, flicking Cordy’s bare leg with her fingertip. – from The Weird Sisters –
Thematically, the novel looks at how sibling relationships morph and change over the years from childhood to adulthood, and the struggle to change who we are within the context of those relationships. It is both a funny and heartbreaking look at growing up and the sometimes painful effort to relate to the most important people in our lives in a different, more mature way.
Brown wrote her book in an unusual point of view – a collective narrative where all three sisters “tell” the story. Instead of “I” the view becomes “we.” Although initially hard to get used to, I found myself appreciating this brilliant choice because although each character is an individual, it is their collective memories and relationships with each other which informs who they become.
Eleanor Brown is a talented storyteller who has crafted a novel that will resonate with anyone who has had a sister. But, you do not need to have shared your life with sisters to appreciate the skill of Brown’s writing. Her work is honest, heartfelt, funny, and full of the truths which make us human. The Weird Sisters is about coming home again and the family connections that bind us; but, more importantly, it is about understanding that we are not alone in the world and the relationships we have with others are what form us.
Do not be surprised if you see The Weird Sisters next year on my top ten of 2011 – it really is that good.
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