Book Review: The Weird Sisters

As another of a series of reviews on the rewards of reading “reality” or”serious” fiction, let me introduce Eleanor Brown’s New York Times bestseller, The Weird Sisters




“We came home because we were failures.” So Eleanor Brown opens her debut novel of three sisters, born in a college town of a father immersed in Shakespeare—so immersed that he has named his daughters, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia. The family communicates with lines from the Bard and Bianca and Cordelia have returned home after receiving letters whose Shakespearean lines tell them their mother is ill. If you know Shakespeare,  it will add to your reading pleasure, but such knowledge isn’t necessary for a good read.

What follows is the story of the two younger sisters’ attempt to emerge from “the sandstorm of Shakespeare in which we were raised” and create a new identity. Bianca (Bean) headed for New York and a life of urban sophistication, Cordelia (Cordy) set a course for anywhere and became a nomad. For each, the attempt ended in disaster and terror. The elder, Rosalind (Rose), has not dared to emerge at all, which heads her toward another sort of failure.

Rudderless, Bean and Cordy struggle to integrate their lives in the great world beyond with the ivory tower of their childhood and evolve into the individuals they truly are. Because we find them back in the college town, the events of their lives in the world stand in contrast to the cloistered fortress and carry the harsh, lonely terror of the unprepared chick cast from the nest. For each, the return is indeed failure, though for the reader it is the beginning of true adulthood.

Brown has created a caricature of the academic family, and perhaps I relate more closely because I came from such a family and know well the sense of isolation from the world at large. Her characters are extreme enough to give us distance and the narrator’s humor makes us laugh. At the same time, this lively and highly original story is also the story of every family, for families are unique organic wholes, and our place in that organism shapes our sense of ourselves, our language, and our expectations of ourselves. To Bean’s and Cordy’s flight from the nest, we see our own, with all its terrors writ large. In Rose, we find that part of ourselves that never left home at all. In all we find the expectation of our culture—that we fly free to create a self that is unique, brilliant, and profound—in all ways superior to our beginnings. And then we land.

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