Saturday, July 14, 2012

"The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown

"See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much."

The Andreas family is one of readers - books are their passion and their solace. The father is a bit eccentric.A renowned professor who communicates almost exclusively in Shakespearean verse, he named all three of his daughters for great Shakespearean women: Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy). As a result, they find that they have a lot to live up to.

Each of the sisters has found her life nothing like what she had thought it would be - and when they are suddenly faced with their parents' frailty and their own disappointments and setbacks, their usual quick salve of a book can't solve what ails them. When they each return to their childhood home - ostensibly to take care of their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds - they are dismayed to find the others there. What can they possibly have in common?

To their surprise, the three discover that they are more similar than they ever imagines, and their childhood town and their sisterly bond offer much more than they ever expected.

This book sat in our lounge at work for quite a while, and I finally decided to pick it up. (We receive ARCs from one of the local newspapers after they're done with them, nice to have but not the sort of thing we can add to the library collection). What caught my eye was the quote on the back of the book, the one that basically starts the blurb above. Such a cute thought, too: "There is no problem a library card can't solve." As a library employee, I do tend to feel this way. The books/information available in a library can open doors to all sorts of possibilities for people, not just escape from reality with a good beach read. The Andreas family, however, take this concept a bit too far, as they seem to live in their own little worlds. I don't think I've ever read about a more dysfunctional, yet polite family.

The characters are interesting if a little cliche at times. Cordy, the youngest, has tired of her free-wheeling hippie lifestyle and has decided it's time to head home. Of course, she's also pregnant, and knows full well that life on the road is no place to raise a child. She's not sure if she's capable of being a parent, either. And she's not even entirely sure who the father is, either. Rose is the stereotypical big sister, always taking care of the younger siblings, and of course, her aging parents. Rose's whole identity is wrapped up in what she's done (and continues to do) for others. She has no life of her own, although her fiance is pushing her to get one; he's been offered a teaching position in England and wants her to accompany him. Rose doesn't even seem all that torn about possibly losing him, either; she's more concerned about her mother and the cancer that is invading her body. And now her two younger siblings are invading "her" turf.

Bean reminded me of many of the characters I've discovered in chick-lit; she's addicted to appearances, both hers and other's. She's wracked up a mountain of debt trying to maintain a certain lifestyle in New York City, and now the piper is demanding payment (and firing her for embezzling money to pay for said lifestyle). She's broke, she's scared, and she has no idea how her life went so wrong. Will she find the strength to discover who she is and what she truly wants out of life by returning to her childhood home?

What I liked: the relationships between the sisters. I'm the oldest of two girls, and I completely understood the author's quote about loving each other but not liking each other. The love/hate yin/yang of all it was spot on, and I thought the author did a great job of developing these familial bonds. I also liked the scenery of a small-town dependent on a liberal arts college; I felt like I knew exactly where they were.

What I didn't like, however, is why I can't completely say I enjoyed this book. It's obvious that the girls are the way they are due to their upbringing, but the relationship with their parents is woefully unexplored, especially their enigmatic father. I also thought the construction of the book was a bit strange. We get different chapters from each sister's viewpoint, told in the third person. However, there's an omniscient first-person narrator who sets scenes for the reader, almost acting like a Greek chorus. It's interesting at first, then just plain off-putting. Every time I came to this "royal we" first-person voice, I would wonder which sister this was supposed to be. It threw me out of the story, and that's never a good thing. Finally, my biggest wtf moment was near the end of the book when Bean finally decides what she's going to do with her life. Actually, someone else sort of makes the decision for her, and while I could normally buy such a thing happening in a small town like this, I could not for a second believe that anyone would agree to such a thing given the small fact that Bean is a thief. If you embezzled thousands of dollars, would you expect any future employer to trust you with money again? Especially if that money was anything more than what's in the cash register? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I got to this scene and literally said, "There's no way in hell this would ever happen in the real world." Sigh.

Overall, an interesting read. If I ever decide to re-read a book, this one might be a good option, as I would pick up the final published version rather than the ARC. However, I can't imagine that too much changed between the two versions, so I'm fairly confident this review would stand.


Pa Ul said...

I enjoyed reading your post. This weekend is my sister's birthday treat.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that, I enjoyed reading your take. I just listened to an interview the book report radio show had with Eleanor Brown See the archives on their website), and decided to do a little more reading about the matter before committing myself to what seems to be a book you shouldn't give your boyfriend (regardless of whether he's a book lover). But for myself, it would be interesting; as I haven't got any sisters, so I won't be able to relate like you do....I think.