The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Berkley Books, 2011
Reviewed By: Sheri de Grom
The three Andreas sisters are the daughters of a professor of Shakespeare at Barnwell, a liberal arts college and the economic base of a small Ohio town. He’s taught the girls and their mother to walk around speaking in dialogue from Shakespeare’s work.
Ms. Brown handles the gimmick well and makes the book’s main focus the narrative voice of slip from that sisterly “we” into third-person subplots about each sister.
The three sisters hide behind their mother’s breast cancer as the reason they’ve each returned home. They need a place that feels safe. Their father always has his nose in a book; he can’t be held responsible for their mother’s continuum of care. They’ll be in charge.
Rosalind (Rose) is the first daughter to arrive home. She’s engaged to Jonathan, a post-PhD research fellow and professor. They plan to marry on New Year’s Eve. Rose wants to marry at Barnwell College and ultimately obtain a tenured position there. Jonathan has other ideas. He doesn’t want to stay in one place. Having just returned from delivering a paper abroad, he’s been offered a perfect opportunity to further his research with a lab of his own plus graduate students to work with him at Oxford in England.
Rose is horrified. She returns to the family home and stays. She has the perfect excuse. No one else is capable of taking care of her mother.
Bianca (Bean) is the second daughter to return home. She’d gone to New York to live a glamorous life but to realize her goal, embezzled thousands from her employer. Instead of having her arrested, she was given fifteen minutes to get out of the building and advised to repay the money.
Bean returns to the family home and when she learns her mother has breast cancer, she has a convenient excuse of why she must stay. Rose needs help. If Bean returns to New York before restitution is made, she’ll face criminal charges. Now she’s free to live without rent, food and the need to explain why she had to leave New York.
Rose and Bean begin to form a new relationship as adult sisters. It’s summer and the college town is nearly vacant.
. . .Pg50[The library drew Bean down the street, as it had drawn all of us over the years. Our parents had trained us to become readers, and the town’s library had been the one place, other than church, that we visited every week. When we were young, we had three little red wagons that we would pull into town like a parade each Saturday morning, our mother at the head like the high-stepping grand marshal.]. . .
At the library, Bean meets Mrs. Landrige, the same librarian she’d known all those years ago. Mrs. Landrige is eager to provide Bean with a new library card.
Bean also meets Father Aidan at the library and is ever so pleased to learn he’s the Episcopalian, not Catholic priest. Why? He’s very good looking. She’s trying to stop seducing men but it’s not working.
Rose continues to fret about her upcoming marriage to Jonathan. It’s unsettling to her that he’s in England and she’s in Ohio. They talk regularly on the phone, but it’s not the same as living in the same house.
In a phone conversation, Rose tells Jonathan, . . . Pg57[“No, it’s not me. I just thought . . . I don’t know, I don’t feel right about this whole thing. What if you meet someone there? What if you decide you don’t miss me at all? What if you don’t want to come back?” Rose lay back on her bed, burying her face in the pillow, ashamed at having exposed so much of her fear, and too afraid not to ask.]. . .
Part of Rose’s insecurity about Jonathan came about as a result of her given name, Rosalind. She didn’t realize her father had named her after a character in a Shakespeare play, and that the character and thus, she, Rosalind, would always be searching for her true love, but would go to extraordinary lengths to prove that she would never find him.
. . .Pg66[Bean carried the burden of Bianca Minola’s name as heavily as Rose carried Rosalind’s. Rose might argue that Bianca’s name hardly burdened her—to be the perpetual belle of the ball, argued over by multiple suitors, beloved by her father.] . . .
Cordy, or Cordelia as her father has named his youngest daughter is the last to return home. Cordy has been bumming around the country following different bands, working when she needs a little money but not spending much. She sleeps where there’s an available bed and her lifestyle is less than savory.
Cordy discovers she’s pregnant and comes face to face with the fact that she has aged into an adult and it’s past time for her to move on. But there’s nowhere to go, except back home.
Cordy was also named after a Shakespearian character. Unfortunately, the only thing she inherited from her name is a gentle rage against injustice and, like Cordelia, she’s hesitant to speak up about it. The consensus of Rose and Bean is that Cordy is simply lazy.
The sisters are the primary caregivers of their mother but that story is secondary to the relationship and telling of the sisters’ own stories. The sisters are complex characters. When they moved into their childhood home together, they fell back into the behavioral patters they held as children.
The father is upset with his youngest daughter for being irresponsible and becoming pregnant by a man she doesn’t know. He insists she’ll not be able to care for a child as she’s never taken care of anything, including herself.
Romantic sub-plots are parlayed into the daughters lives in this otherwise deserted Ohio college town.
There is much inside this book: a great story about family relationships and how they affect your life; a good story about coming home again; and beautifully written passages that paint pictures broadly across a waiting canvas.
I’ll not hesitate to pick up the second novel by Eleanor Brown and I recommend this book for book clubs and individuals alike without reservation.