Sunday, March 16, 2014

THE WEIRD SISTERS – Eleanor Brown

Weird. Can that be a sentence on its own? Well the book is weird, the characters are weird, and the title reference to Macbeth is weird because it lead me to think the sisters were going to be witches! They were not witches, they were just “weird.” It is a beauty though, nice iridescent white cover with beautiful and delicate green vines meandering over the cover and through the title. There is also a quotation on the front saying, “See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much,” which is apropos considering as the reader I didn't particularly like any of them either. The first person plural narrative also gave me pause. At first I kept thinking there must be a fourth person watching the other three referring to “we” all the time, but then there was only the three, therefore a collective first person. Recently I have come across some other contemporary writers using that voice such as Buddha in the Attic by Otsuka but it isn't my favorite.

My friend Wendy says I am weird because since high school, I have loved Shakespeare. I tell her good teachers made it real to me and taught me to appreciate Shakespearean references in contemporary media whether it is in literature, television, or simply in everyday references. This book is full of such references and quotations as well although to ad nauseam sometimes. Three eccentric adult sisters return home with the idea of ministering to their mother who is suffering from breast cancer. Each is really escaping from her failures and fears and is shocked to find her siblings also home. They find themselves revisiting their relationships with each other, dealing with their emotionally distant, renowned Shakespeare scholar/college professor father who insists on answering questions with rhymes, couplets, and quotations from plays, and figure out where they want to go with their futures. All that while dealing with a seriously ill mother and the eccentricities of their small college town in rural Ohio.

The sisters names are all from Shakespeare too and I am sure the author chose them to compliment each personality. The oldest is Rosalind named from “As You Like It” and is so controlling she cannot let the others make decisions but also cannot move on with her fiance to craft a new life on her own. Bianca from “The Taming of the Shrew” is bossy, bitchy, over-sexed, deep in debt, and at a loss for how to start over. Cordelia from “King Lear” has returned home after years of drifting as a drugged hippie, pregnant, and facing 30 with no skills or education.

The plots fit together nicely actually. As the family progresses down the path of surgery, chemotherapy, and rehab with the mother, the women also grow, change, evolve, and move on. For me it was fun to fit in the idea of a whole family who has lived for many decades with no TV, with a penchant for books, and a love of a centuries-dead writer as their compass. I liked it, but what I didn't like was the one plot line of spinster-librarian bowing out and prodding the library board to hire a non-librarian (Bianca) to fill her shoes, indicating that being a librarian isn't rocket-science. What! Librarianship isn't hard, you don't need a degree? Librarians beware when reading this book. But “All's Well that Ends Well” (wink wink).


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