The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011)
Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters is a gentle novel about three very different sisters returning to their childhood home to care for their ailing mother. The offspring of an eccentric Shakespeare professor father and named after characters from the Bard’s plays, each sister bears the unique burden of their Shakespearean namesake. Through the difficulties and love of their family, they find their way, and, cue heartwarming cliché, each other.
Rose has stayed in the area, a successful mathematics professor with an attentive fiancee, and resents her sisters flight from the town. Bean has returned from her high cost lifestyle in New York after being unceremoniously fired from her job and Cordelia may have found a reason to finally give up her gypsy lifestyle and settle for good. Frustratingly, each sister is determined to face their past and secrets alone, ignorant of the similarities she shares with her sisters. Readers will find a lot to love, and relate to, with the family’s bookishness – the books left open around the house, the retreat into the written word when reality seems too much.
She remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly, how many books she read in a year. “A few hundred,” she said.
“How do you have the time?” he asked, gobsmacked.
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don’t spend hours flipping through cable complaining there’s nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in available reflective surfaces? I am reading.
This is not a hugely taxing novel. Brown’s style is light and enjoyable, well-versed in the particulars of lovingly antagonistic relationships between sisters. A curious use of the collective narrative voice (“we”) is effective, only sometimes jarring, and allows for us to see how the sisters view each other as a whole. As one of three weird sisters myself, I really liked seeing how the three interacted together, with their parents and as individuals and the frustrations inherent in each of those relationships.
And though I am not usually one for sentimentality or sappy narrative arcs based on the power of forgiveness and love, Bean’s story of repentance and self-forgiveness, even when couched in the alien (to me) language of religion and religious redemption, reduced me to tears. Everything I write seems to be so damned apologetic for being affected by a story on a basic empathetic level. Eleanor Brown makes it easy to relate to these women and their stories, even when they are at their worst. Moments of predictability don’t diminish the strength of Brown’s writing and though it is quite different from what I usually enjoy, The Weird Sisters is a satisfying read.