Eleanor Brown‘s eponymous “weird sisters” – introduced with a quote from the good Bard’s Macbeth: “I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters” – are perhaps the most erudite characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Trained by a professor father who speaks to them mostly in Shakespeare quotes, their literary prowess sprouts early. That said, the sisters’ are not just passive receptors for pretty words; they certainly know how to think for themselves: ”Here’s one of the problems with communicating in the words of a man who is not around to explain himself: it’s damn hard sometimes to tell what he was talking about. Look, the sheer fact that people have banged out book after article after dramatic interpretation of this guy should tell you that despite his eloquence, he wasn’t the clearest of communicators.” [Surely one of the best Shakespeare comments ever!]
In spite of all that book learning, real life for Rose (yes, Rosalind from As You Like It), Bean (Bianca from The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia from King Lear) doesn’t seem to be following the right script. When their mother is diagnosed with cancer, the family reunites in the sisters’ childhood home in small-college-town Barnwell, Ohio. Ostensibly home to offer assistance, the true reasons are somewhat different: Rose who has never strayed from home has to demonstrate once again she is the most responsible sister, even if that means putting her own life on hold and sending her fiancé solo across the Pond to teach at Oxford; Bean’s glamorous Manhattan life has come to an ignoble, sudden end when she’s caught embezzling from her too-generous employer who is willing to quietly let her slink away with promises to repay her sizable debt; and Cordy has run out of options living an aimlessly peripatetic existence now that she has to think for about-to-be-two rather than only her self-indulgent self. Their relationships with each other? “See, we love one another. We just don’t happen to like one another very much.”
How will these “weird” sisters fare? Brown hints early on, “But it is worth noting, especially now that ‘weird’ has evolved from its delicious original meaning of supernatural strangeness into something depressingly critical and pedestrian … that Shakespeare didn’t really mean the sisters were weird at all. The word he originally used was much closer to ‘wyrd’ … ‘Wyrd’ means fate … that we cannot fight our family and cannot fight our fates.”
Written from a unique plural second person omniscient perspective (such that I’ve never encountered before) which invites you immediately into the learning-to-be-sisterly coven, Brown’s novel is one of those thoroughly enjoyable, easy reads that a weekend deserves. Stick the book in your ears (narrator Kirsten Potter provides excellent company) and join the family on their pre-prandial walk. Readers and listeners will be well-rewarded: Sisters proves to be quite the tribute to books and learning. We might not all be able to go home again, but we can always find comfort and shelter in our nearest libraries: “‘…you’ll need a library card, won’t you?’ … as though that solved everything (which, in our family, it nearly did).” Truth!