The Weird Sisters

Sisters are complicated. Sisters are easy. Sisters shape who we are, reflect and contrast, sustain and annoy. Sisters are essential and elemental.

Rose, Bean and Cordy are three such sisters. As daughters of a Shakespeare scholar, they are named after characters in his plays: Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, but not surprisingly, their names became shortened, made less imposing. Naturally, giving the Shakespearean connection, there is also a mention of the Wyrd Sisters from Macbeth. Wyrd, not weird. Wyrd in the sense of something fated, of destiny.

I have just finished reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown and still feel as if I haven't quite left that particular universe. It all starts when Rose, the oldest, looks into the mirror at her parents home and wishes her sisters were there, too. This is a bit unusual for these three sisters, but their mother has been diagnosed with cancer and in situations like that, you need your sisters. Before you know it, things happen and Bean, the middle sister, is heading home. Soon after, Cordy shows up, as well. All three sisters are stuck. All three sisters need to find a way out of a troubled situation and into a life of becoming who they were meant to be. That particular personal journey is best done when you start it surrounded by the people who shaped you in the first place.

The book's narrator is the first person plural, the sisters as a unit. Initially, I thought it an interesting choice, but worried that it might grow old quickly. It is a credit to Eleanor Brown's writing that it doesn't. In fact, it starts making perfect sense, connecting you to that ephemeral way that sisters are in many ways one. Spend time around any pair (or more) of sisters and you start noticing how they move the same way, inflect their words similarly, move down a path of thought side-by-side. I’ve heard it can get downright unnerving. Brown looked at this tendency of sisters and took the next logical step and she did so in a way that pulls you further into the story, making it a little mystical, a bit about fate and a lot about that mystery within and between sisters.

Brown also manages something else that is quite astounding. Each character in this book is in a way a stereotype. Beyond a stereotype -they are archetypes. There's the controlling older sister, the irresponsible youngest and the one in the middle who always seeks attention. There is a father who is an absent-minded professor, always with his nose in a book and a mother who is mildly present, yet far away, as well. And yet, each character in this book is fully fleshed, a three-dimensional person with their own quirks, flaws and a quiet heartbreaking need to break out of the mold. As a reader I enjoyed this tremendously and as a writer, I turned chartreuse with envy and admiration at the deftness and light hand with which Brown drew her characters.

Books play a large role in the story - this is a family who reads like they breathe. Everyone is always reading, books are part of almost every scene and there was a wonderful comfort in this. Shakespeare, too, plays a large role, and I wish I knew more of his material because I am certain that many of the themes were modern takes on scenes or entire plays. Sisters and parents frame their discussion with quotes from Shakespeare and again, I was caught up in admiration that Brown could integrate these quotes so effectively and seamlessly in this story. It reminded me of one of the handful of things I remember from my first-year introductory psychology course about 30 years ago: my professor at the time once said in a lecture that everything you ever wanted to know about psychology, you would find in Shakespeare.

I caught a glimpse of a review somewhere, possibly on Audible, that referred to this book as "chick lit" with more than a little derision. The Weird Sisters is chick lit in the sense that it is about women, relationships, personal journeys and there are a couple of love stories thrown in, too. Instead of that terrible pigeonholing I'd like to think of this as a book about life and a wonderful one, at that. It makes you think and evokes an emotional response. That makes it art, not fluff.

No review of this book would be complete without some serious gushing about the narrator, Kirsten Potter. She doesn't read this book, she inhabits the characters. Potter's inflections perfectly capture the mood of the characters and the action, tiny modulations interpreting the words and deepening the story. Although I was quite taken with this book, it is quite possible that the narration made me love it more than I would have had I read it as a regular book. I promptly checked Audible to see what else Kirsten Potter has narrated and realized that she also read Catch Me by Lisa Gardner. This is a completely different book and one which I finished just a few weeks ago. I was stunned to realize that I'd had no idea it was the same narrator - that's a sign of some serious skill and talent!

Bottom line? Get this one - preferably on audio - settle in on a cozy couch with a cup of tea and prepare to get lost for hours. It'll be a great trip.