Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Three sisters, recalling the three witches in Macbeth, have returned to their small college hometown after learning that their absent-minded but brilliant mother has breast cancer.  Their mother’s illness provides them with reasons to avoid uncomfortable truths awaiting them in the world outside fictional Barnwell, Ohio.

The novel’s first sentences tell the tale:  “We came home because we were failures. We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else.  We said we came home because our mother was ill, because we needed a break, a momentary pause before setting off for the Next Big Thing.”   The novel's unusual first-person plural narrative voice establishes a distinct  tone that allows the sisters to speak as a modern-day Greek chorus and gives the reader an immediate sense of belonging to the family.

Rose (Rosalind), the eldest, is a math professor at a large university in nearby Columbus who coordinates everyone else's well being while spurning her fiancĂ©’s request to join him in England.  Bean (Bianca), the dazzling but insecure middle sister, has been fired from her job in New York. Finally, the baby, Cordy (Cordelia), arrives malnourished and unwilling to admit that she’s pregnant.  Their father, a professor, is so obsessed with Shakespeare that he speaks almost entirely in the words of the bard.  This is a family that insults, banters, and communicates in sonnets and couplets.  This device shouldn’t work; it should be tiring and overwrought, but Eleanor Brown seamlessly fashions it into an effortless view of the sisters as a family.

To read or not to read, that is the question.  I highly recommend this novel for those who love books.  It’s a love letter to the power of reading.  It’s also a perceptive look at families and the values and characteristics that seemingly different members share.  Even the minor characters are original and filled with wisdom.  Father Aiden tells Bean, “We tell ourselves we are too fat, or too ugly, or too old, or too foolish. We tell ourselves these stories because they allow us to excuse our actions, and they allow us to pass off the responsibility for things we have done, maybe to something within our control, but anything other than the decisions we have made.”  This novel introduces a bevy of intriguing characters whose stories illuminate our own foibles while granting readers a charming interlude and much to consider.

Summing it Up:  Don’t miss this ode to the power of books, families, and to the joy in stepping from safety into real life.  Select it for your book club and you'll have a discussion that leads itself.  

Rating: 5 stars    
Category: Fiction, Grandma's Pot Roast, Book Club
Publication date: January 20, 2011
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