Daughters of a Shakespearean scholar, the three Andreas sisters grew up in the shadow of the Bard’s immortal words. Life in small town Ohio, close to their father’s teaching job at a local university, proved enough for Rose, the oldest Andreas daughter, but city lights and the promised thrum of activity called Bianca to New York City. Youngest sister Cordelia shed any sense of responsibility and made a “career” of traveling the country like a Kerouac hero, pausing only to sleep wherever she could lay her head. For years.
Everyone is called home, though, when the girls’ mother is diagnosed with cancer — and, as the narrators themselves tell us, they all return “because they were failures.” When the Andreas family is united to fight their mother’s illness, Rose, Bean and Cordy — living under the same roof for the first time in years — must get to know each other again . . . and help one another with the messy, complicated and occasionally heartbreaking messes their lives have become.
Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters has been garnering rave reviews since its recent release, and I can definitely see why. Brown has crafted a trio of frustrating, lovable and realistic women who are fallible — just like all of us. Reading about Rose, Cordy and Bean offered me a glimpse of my own relationship with my sister, who is both a best friend and tough critic.
It’s hard to put my finger on what I loved about the book — but love it I did. The sense of place is incredible, drawing us right into Barnwell — or “Barny,” as the locals affectionately call it — and the rich atmosphere that is at once stifling and comforting. Bean arrives from New York having made some terrible choices, and it’s through returning to Barnwell that she begins to seek redemption. Cordy, too, comes home with a life-changing secret, and there were so many moments I really didn’t know what she was going to do. Or how to fix any of it.
But Brown doesn’t seek out easy answers. As the tagline on the book states, “See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.” I loved how apparent it was that the Andreas family deeply cared for one another, but it’s not realistic to think that they, like all families, don’t have problems. Facing their mother’s cancer changed everything about their dynamics and those with their parents, and I loved the complication of having three adult women — but still daughters themselves — reunited in the town two had hoped to leave behind.
It was easy to see shades of myself in all three ladies, but I related the most to Rose. As an oldest sister myself, her struggles with responsibility and duty versus choosing her own path rang very true. The youngest of three daughters herself, Brown clearly understands what it means to exist in a family that loves you so much that it almost . . . hinders you.
Though so much is happening in The Weird Sisters, no one theme seemed to overwhelm the others. We’re dealing cancer; theft; adultery; pregnancy; love. And family, glorious and difficult and real. Brown does a remarkable job of making us care deeply for the characters in her debut novel, and the many quotes and allusions to Shakespeare enchanted me. Those without knowledge of the Bard shouldn’t worry about missing out on anything; they’re complementary to enjoying the novel, not mandatory.
Lovers of literary fiction, family dynamics and novels about sisters shouldn’t miss this one — a worthy and very readable story about love, connection and forging new identities.
4.5 out of 5!