Eleanor Brown’s debut novel, The Weird Sisters, came out in hardcover a year ago and recently hit the shelves in paperback (listen to the author on NPR’s Weekend Edition here). Book clubs, take note. Shakespeare buffs will recognize the title as a reference to the three witches in Macbeth, but this is a more modern and bright tale. Meet Rose (named for Rosalind from As You Like It), Bean (Bianca from The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia from King Lear), the three daughters of a professor of, surprise surprise, Shakespeare. When their mother becomes ill, Rose, Bianca, and Cordy return to their small college hometown for the summer.
The premise of a sick parent bringing siblings back home to confront their pasts isn’t new, but in this book, it works well. Each sister is working through her own baggage. The eldest, Rose, is caught in the family martyr/caretaker role and stalling on an engagement that would force her to move to England, Bean has been looking for love in all the wrong places and has left New York City to escape an embezzlement charge, and the youngest and most irresponsible, Cordy, has nowhere else to go and a lot of growing up to do, fast. Sisters this different may love each other, but they don’t get along and they don’t respect each others’ decisions.
Not only is this a book about family, it’s a book about the love of reading and the way it impacts our lives. These girls grew up with a father who spoke primarily in Shakespearean sonnets. Their personalities are exposed through their reading styles (Bean reads everywhere in public, Rose keeps her books tucked away, and so on), and this family’s reverence for books comes through in their dialogue and actions. When life is hard, they turn to books, and it’s through literature that they rebuild the ties that bind them and free themselves from their pasts.
The relationships ring true and as flawed as these characters are, they work their way in and stay with you, raising thought-provoking questions about the nature of our own family relationships and our connection with books. Can one author really have such an influence over an entire family’s life? The answer is a beautifully told yes.