Monday, December 19, 2011

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Eleanor Brown’s debut novel, The Weird Sisters, is nothing less than a gift to lovers of witty, domestic literary fiction.

The Andreas sisters are not weird in the conventional sense: think Shakespeare, rather than "strange." Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia--see what I mean?--are the offspring of a renowned Shakespeare expert and his loveable, distracted wife. The sisters grew up in a small, Midwestern University town, generally getting on each others' nerves (in the way of sisters) and flinging Shakespeare quotes at each other (not a normal sisterly activity, but Brown makes it work).

As adults the Andreas girls have gone their separate ways but as the novel opens they are about to be reunited, without warning. Bianca and Cordelia are returning home, individually and unannounced, on the pretext of helping the way-too-responsible Rosalind care for their ailing mother. In reality they harbor their own secrets and are seeking refuge while they figure out what to do next. They are not overjoyed to see one another.

Interestingly, the Brown's omniscient narrator refers to the sisters as “we,” but the reader is never able to identify which one of the sisters is speaking. Initially this was off-putting, but I soon came to appreciate this device: there’s something kind of entre nous about it. The narrator seems to be confiding in a sisterly sort of way, as though  about to share some family gossip. Brown clearly knows and cares about her characters and writes with a uniquely intimate brand of understanding and sympathy. And she is a generous author, sharing what she knows in a very satisfying way, making this a wonderfully satisfying read.

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