Author: Eleanor Brown
Publisher: Amy Einhorn (Penguin)
Pub. Date: January 20, 2011
The Weird Sisters has been all abuzz in the blogosphere and publishing industry. All the other blogger reviews I've read have spouted adoringly about this debut novel, and I can now say that I have also had the pleasure of absolutely reveling in this fantastic book as well.
The Weird Sisters (which is actually a Shakespearean reference) is a story about a family with three adult daughters who return home when their mother is diagnosed with cancer. That description, though, is too mild, too plain, and not completely accurate. That alone wouldn't bring me to read this book. Here are some reasons why this book is set apart from all those other stories about adult children returning home.
A Family of Readers: Most readers and book-lovers seem to love reading about characters who love reading. Books abound in the Andreas household. A common scene is the family sitting around reading books. Whenever they go somewhere, each family member automatically takes a book with them. In their love for books, it was inevitable that I would love this family and these characters. In one scene, Bianca "Bean" is explaining to a boyfriend how she has time to read a few hundred books a year:
"How do you have time" he asked, gobsmacked.Loved that part!! (Although, a few hundred is quite a lot!)
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!
"'I don't know," she said, shrugging. (pg. 70)
Shakespeare: I had heard this book was full of Shakespeare references and was afraid I wouldn't enjoy the reading experience because I wouldn't get them. I shouldn't have been worried at all! Turns out it ended up being quite a charming and unique addition to the story without requiring the reader to really have much knowledge of him at all. The father of the Andreas girls is a Shakespearean scholar so he can quote lines from any Shakespeare play whenever it applies to the situation, just like fans of pop culture who can insert a funny movie quote into any situation (my husband), or a song lyric. And because they've grown up with their father doing so, and in their father obsessing over "the Bard", the Andreas girls can and do the same. The quotes were all italicized so the reader knew it was a specific quote. I loved how Brown used quotes that fit perfectly into the situation, and I just loved how the family used them. For example, in the prologue:
"The second was from our father. He communicates almost exclusively through pages copied from The Riverside Shakespeare. The pages are so heavily annotated with decades of thoughts, of interpretations, that we can barely make out the lines of text he highlights. But it matters not; we have been nurse and nurtured on the plays, and the slightest reminder brings the language back.What I thought was also funny is that even though they've grown up with it, even the daughters don't always know what he's talking about when uses a Shakespeare quote. In a couple parts, he would say something and they'd respond with the equivalent of "huh?!" That made it more realistic and better able for me to relate to them. And I thought it was great that I kept finding really great quotable Shakespeare too while reading this.
Come, let us go; and pray to all the gods/For our beloved mother in her pains. And this is how Cordy knew our mother had cancer. This is how she knew we had to come home." (pg. 3)
"This above all: to thine own self be true , and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. He reached across the table and patted her hand and then picked up his book again."This Really is Not a Dysfunctional Family/a "belated coming-of-age": There are so many dysfunctional family stories out there, and this is almost advertised as one. But I found it to be refreshingly not so dysfunctional. Just like the tagline says, the sisters love each other but don't like each other. I didn't even see it so much as them not liking each other. They were just different. And there's nothing wrong with that. They may not have been super-close, but they still wholly loved each other. I thought Brown did a fantastic job of depicting each character and their nuances. She did a great job of reflecting the effects of the theory of birth order and how we can easily allow it to define who we are. In her author q & a, Brown refers to the story as a "belated coming-of-age". I love that definition. I think we "come of age" many times in our life so I was happy to see a story about this happening to people my age. I mentioned earlier that the fact they came home because of their mother having cancer wasn't completely accurate. It's as though her cancer coincided with other issues that were leading them back home anyway. Their mother's illness, then, served as their excuse to return home without having to own up to any failures they feel they may have had. But come home they did, and I loved all the ways this family interacted with each other.
First Person, Plural: It's an interesting tense to use. I thought it might be weird but it didn't bother me at all. Unique, but worked perfectly for this book, as the story was being narrated by all three sisters.
Those were all the things that made this specific story unique and special. But it couldn't have been told by just anyone. Although this is Eleanor Brown's debut novel, she's no novice at writing and it's obvious. Her writing style and prose really brought the story to life. She ultimately took a story where nothing really significant happens and made it a fun and endearing character and family study. It's funny, because as I was reading this, I compared the writing to that of Maeve Binchy (which I've done on this blog only one other time) because of the way I felt for the characters and the story. Then I read Brown's author q & a where she said she learned from Maeve Binchy's writing how to weave together multiple storylines. Turns out I was spot on in my comparison! I loved the prose and word choice; Brown's writing is exactly how I hope to write one day.
The Weird Sisters is one of those books that you will want to embrace and keep nearby, even after you finish reading it -- a very beautifully and well-written novel of sisters, family, and finding oneself.