Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Weird Sisters

A year or two ago, I read a report on the influence of siblings.  It turns out some psychologists think that siblings have a greater impact on personality than anyone else in a person's life -- including parents.  Eleanor Brown's debut novel, The Weird Sisters, certainly offers literary support for this argument.  And really, literary credibility is far more entertaining to read than the original report probably was, so let's stick with that.   

The Andreas family is defined in many ways by the father's vocation as a Shakespearean expert and professor at a small Ohio college.  Aside from the three sisters being named after Shakespearean heroines, the family communicates their most difficult emotions, including the mother's cancer diagnosis, through the Bard's quotes.  This itself is interesting, but would falter if Brown had simply laid that quirky tendency over an otherwise bland family.  As it is, it is only one layer to the family;s captivating dynamic, which in many ways  and offers interesting insights on living life as an imagined competition with siblings.  Each sister lives her life in a silent, unacknowledged competition with her sisters.  Their mother's breast cancer diagnosis and the fates that bring them each to a crossroads force each sister to confront who they are with, without, and, ultimately, because of their sisters.  Added to that is the fascinating use of a plural first-person narrative, which serves to highlight how inexorably the sisters are connected, regardless of whether they want to be. 

Finally, how I loved reading a book that unabashedly proclaims a love for books.  Certainly, Will has a special place in the Andreas home, but all the family members are unapologetic bibliophiles.  Bianca, the flirty, troubled middle daughter summed up the family's position on reading while reflecting on the attributes of a former boyfriend.  She found she couldn't continue the relationship, "[b]ecause despite his money and his looks and all the good on paper attributes he possessed, he was not a reader, and, well, let's just say that is the sort of nonsense up with which we will not put." 

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