What’s in a name: A review of The Weird Sisters

The Book: The Weird Sisters

The Author: Eleanor Brown (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam January 2011)

By: Shannon Culver

As a (late) twenty-something who is only recently gainfully employed, the initial premise of The Weird Sisters sends a cold shiver down my spine. Three sisters in their late twenties/early thirties find themselves under their parents’ roof again after their attempts at adulthood result in varying degrees of failure. Ostensibly, they come home because their mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, but the trip also serves as an opportunity to call a time-out, and evaluate what they have been doing with their lives over the past decade.

The story is framed by the works of Shakespeare; the girls’ father is a professor of English literature at the local university, and has a borderline obsession with the Bard. As a result, the entire family often communicates by quoting verses from his plays. The title is an allusion to the three witches in Macbeth, and the three sisters, Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, are each named for characters from his plays.

The eldest sister, Rosalind, is named for Orlando’s lover from As You Like It. Shakespeare’s Rosalind is fiercely loyal to her family, and a natural leader. Brown’s Rose takes those traits to their logical extent; she sees herself as the captain of the good ship Weird, keeping her cerebral parents and wayward sisters on course.

Bianca, the middle sister, leaves their sleepy university town for a life of martinis, designer shoes and investment bankers in Manhattan. Unfortunately, she can’t actually afford her Sex and the City-imitation lifestyle, so she slinks back home with little more than a few pairs of Manolo Blahniks and massive debt to her name. There are two Biancas in Shakespeare, the sweet younger daughter of Baptista Minola in The Taming of the Shrew, and the courtesan in Othello. Brown’s Bianca falls somewhere in the middle: she comes home with the most egregious crimes to her name, but she’s a good girl at heart.

Cordelia, the baby sister, gets her name from King Lear. Like Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordy Weird is her father’s favourite, but suffers a fall from grace.

There is an element of the uncanny to the girls’ return home: although the sleepy town of their childhood remains unchanged, they see it through newly adult eyes. They fall back into the same contentious relationships that they had with each other when they were teenagers, but they also have to learn to care for their parents in the wake of their mothers’ illness and to relate to each other as adults.

If The Weird Sisters was one of Shakespeare’s plays it would be a comedy because it ends with order restored and all of the characters living their own version of happily ever after. There were parts of the book that I found a bit twee; my own sister loves a good, happy ending, but I can live with a little more ambiguity. This is the type of book that you can throw in a beach bag and read haphazardly on the dock on a summer weekend. It’s light, but entertaining, particularly if you have an English degree to your name.

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Categories: Literature, Reviews

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