THE WEIRD SISTERS
By Eleanor Brown
Amy Einhorn Books (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
This is a wonderful book. It is charming, humorous, poignant, sniffly-inducing, heartwarming and not a whiff of saccharine or tweeness. That's brilliant for a debut novel about three sisters, named after Shakespeare characters by their professor father, who return to their small college hometown when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer.
And here's why this is a wonderful book: Rose (Rosalind), Bean (Bianca) and Cordy (Cordelia) are both alike and different. Their characters' names are reflected in their personalities and stories yet are hardly mere copycats. They do, as the cover copy says, love each other but cannot stand one another. They are rivals and best friends.
Rose, the oldest, has stayed near home. Her mother's illness is the best excuse she has to hightail it from the university up the road, where she is a math professor who has just learned she won't be granted tenure, back to the nest. Her fiancee has just landed a visiting teaching job in Oxford. And she prefers to stay in her little Midwest nest becaue she's the one who knows how to take care of situations large and small. In vignettes from throughout their lives, Rose is the one who knows how to cope. The advantages and drawbacks of this to herself and the rest of her family is woven throughout the novel.
Middle daughter Bean has had a seemingly glamorous life as a singleton in New York City, drawing men in with just a look and wearing only the highest of fashion. She's fired for embezzling and comes home not only for her mother's sake, but also her own. Bean has a long journey before she learns that taking a cold, hard look at one's own flaws is only the beginning. She is in for some surprises, but author Eleanor Brown makes them a perfect fit.
Cordelia, the youngest, the baby, is a determined free spirit. She's been living on the road for years and comes home just in time to discover what kinds of roots she needs and craves. As with her older two sisters, nothing in her story is forced and it all feels just right.
In addition, both parents are fully realized characters, as are several people in town who the sisters meet or come across again. Their interactions are the very stuff of regular community life. At the same time, knowing what one knows about the sisters makes many of these encounters fraught with tension and possibility.
THE WEIRD SISTERS has a distinctive voice that is entirely captivating. While each of the sisters is the focus in an overseeing narration, the words used are not third person omniscient but the second person "we" and "us". This is the story of all three sisters, not a trio of stories. This literary device is one of the most charming features of making certain each of them take their rightful place within the novel.
And that Eleanor Brown has so perfectly captured what it is like to be one of three sisters is proved by the fact that the reader does not need to have sisters to understand the family dynamics. It's likely many will realize there have been times in their lives when they have been just like one, then another, then, yup, all three sisters.
Even with these readerly connections, it is still the three sisters and their story that takes center stage. Although they are named for characters of the Bard, they are definitely new creations. Take a bow, Ms. Brown.
©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission