The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown

I picked up this novel about the three Andreas sisters, daughters of a professor whose specialty is Shakespeare and has named them after heroines from the master's plays for three reasons. I myself am one of three sisters and am curious about the shifting alliances and effects of birth order on these relationships. Also, like the Andreas family, I believe that solutions to all problems may be found in books. Finally, least in importance but first in capturing my eye, the cover features an attractive graphic and clear text, though I was a little put off by the title.

Weird here carries its ancient meaning of fate, and underlying the rather frivolous story of romantic and familial relationships are questions of destiny and choice. The oldest sister, Rose (short for Rosalind), still lives in the rural college town of Barnwell, Ohio where her highest ambitions are to marry her sweet fiancé, teach math at the same college where her father holds forth, and help her absent-minded parents. Bean (short for Bianca) lives a fast life in New York City, having gotten as far away as possible from sleepy Barnwell. The youngest, Cordy (short for Cordelia), drifts around the country following bands or simply the wind, part of today's youthful tribe of travelers.

The sisters are brought home by their mother's illness and by their own sense of having failed in creating their own lives.

Weighing the things I liked about the book against those I didn't like, I conclude that it is a good light read, certainly appropriate for the insomniac wee hours I spent reading it. I enjoyed the family's literary wordplay and apt quotations from the bard, though some people may find them a bit much. I liked the prickly relationship between the sisters: much more like my experience than those saccharine sisters in some novels. On the other hand the characters are rather stereotypical and the plot a bit predictable. Humor and some interesting minor characters keep the story from bogging down.

Brown employs a peculiar point of view in this book: a collective voice for the sisters. Hence, a good part of the book is narrated in first person plural: “How can we explain what books and reading mean to our family, the gift of libraries, of pages?” Even when we go into a close third person to delve into one sister's story, the collective voice sometimes offers commentary. Like a chorus in a Greek play, the collective “we” interrupts the story, interpreting what's happening, providing background information. This unusual choice is intended, I assume, to remind us that even as the sisters seem to be shooting off in opposite directions, they remain tied together.

For me it had a distancing effect. Just as I would start to get involved in one of the sister's problems, the voice would pull me out, hauling me up to the clouds where I could observe like an Olympian but not actually care very much. Still, it is an interesting experiment, and as I say, I stayed with the book to the end. Have you ever read a book using this point of view? What did you think of it?

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