Book Review: The Weird Sisters

Small wonder these girls are weird: they have a father who thinks in iambic pentameter and quotes the Immortal Bard rather than holding an ordinary conversation! Eleanor Brown makes an auspicious debut with this very fetching novel about Rose (Rosalind, As You Like It), Bean (Bianca, The Taming of the Shrew) and Cordy (Cordelia, King Lear). Despite their father's eccentricities and their mother's rather vague presence, there is no malice anywhere, and real concern, care and counsel are voiced. Well, at least that's true of the parents; the sisters kvetch and carp, as sisters will.

The story takes place in Barnwell, Ohio, where their father, Dr. James Andreas, is a--guess what--Shakespeare scholar. Rose is perfectly content to remain there, but Bean and Cordy couldn't get out fast enough. Their exits didn't work so well and now they have returned. All three girls/women--27, 30 and 33--are now under the family roof, ostensibly to assist in the care of their cancer-stricken mother, but really to find refuge from a less-than-friendly world.

Rose, an academic, is mired in a job that is not exactly what she had in mind, engaged to a good man who is currently at Oxford for a short term. When he is invited to stay on and asks Rose to join him there, she panics. What will the family do without her? She is the only organized one, the one who alphabetizes the spices in the cupboard, buys the groceries, tends to her mother's sickroom needs.

Bean, a fashion maven, a flirt and an embezzler, has returned home because she was fired from her Manhattan job. Her employers were good enough not to prosecute with the promise that restitution would be made. When she first arrives in Barnwell, from which she fought to escape, her first agenda is to reassure herself that she is still the man-trap she always was. On her first trip to the local bar, that illusion is destroyed. So she jumps into bed with an old professor whose wife she is very fond of and starts vamping the local Episcopal priest. Self-loathing is Bean's portion for these antics.

Flibbertigibbet Cordy has returned home pregnant, not knowing who the father is. She is broke, unskilled and determined to keep her baby. She bolts once, early on, but settles in for the long pull and begins to carve out a place for herself and her baby.

In the voice of an omniscient narrator, we learn that change is in the air. Appropriate Shakespearean quotes pop up here and there because the girls know the Bard almost as well as their father. The narrator and the quotes are clever ways of moving the story along, and move it does, as decisions are made and roads taken that we would not have guessed at the beginning. But even if we did, the author's graceful style and appealing portrait of a real family are enough to keep us going.--Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: A fine debut novel about three grown-up sisters and their parents in a small town in Ohio who find themselves under the same roof again, and realize that change is called for.


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