Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This book came out last January and I wrote a passing recommendation and promised a full review later.  I guess it's later.  I picture you all sitting quietly, perhaps sipping a little summer drink with an umbrella in it, with nothing to read because I haven't gotten around to telling you to run as fast as you can to get this book. Shameful!

How can it be anything but love-at-first-page with a book that includes the line:  There is no problem that a library card can't solve.
The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. "See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much."  But the sisters soon discover that everything they've been running from - one another, their small hometown, and themselves - might offer more than they ever expected.
This story includes two things that are dear to me - sisters and books.  I am the middle child of three sisters and, even though some days you would be hard put to tell that they are dear to me, there's always a connection down deep (w-a-a-a-a-y down deep) - A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ( Ecclesiastes 4:12)  In spite of age, arguments or life-events, there is a dynamic between three sisters that never changes.  Parts of the story are written in a rather odd "community voice".  I have no idea what the technical term would be, but some passages are told from the perspective of the sisters as a group - one unit with one emotion, one viewpoint.  It's a bit disconcerting at first, but it also strengthens that sister dynamic.  Ms. Brown obviously has sisters of her own, because she captured it perfectly.  When brought together by a common crises, the Andreas sisters each instinctively returned to her childhood role.  The story is in how they moved beyond them.  

One sure measure of how much I like a book is the number of passages I mark to remember later.  This book had a peacock plume of sticky-notes by the time I finished.  There are lots of wonderful lines about aging, books, and family relationships.  Here are a handful of my favorites:

"We were fairly sure that if anyone made public the various and variegated ways in which being an adult sucked eggs, more people might opt out entirely." (p. 7)

"We were never organized readers who would see a book through to its end in any sort of logical order.  We weave in and out of words like tourists on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.  Put a book down in the kitchen to go to the bathroom and you might return to find it gone, replaced by another of equal interest...Cordy claims this is the source of her inability to focus on anything for more than a few mintues at a time, but we do not believe her.  It is just our way."  (p. 23)

"How can we explain what books and reading mean to our family, the gift of libraries, of pages?" (p. 70)

"I keep waiting to feel old, to feel like a grown-up, but I don't yet.  Do you think that's the big secret adults keep from you?  That you never really feel grown-up?"  (p. 188)

"She remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly, how many books she read in a year.
'A few hundred,' she said. 
"How do you have time?' he asked, gobsmacked. 
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her.  Because I don't spend hours flipping through cable complaining there's nothing on?  Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pregame, in-game and post-game talking heads?  Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati?  Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in available reflective surfaces?  I am reading!
'I don't know,' she said, shrugging.
This conversation, you will not be surprised to know, was the impetus for their breakup, given that it caused her to realize the emotion she had thought was her not liking him very much was, in fact, her not liking him at all.  Because 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."  (p. 71-72)

"Our mother shook her head...'You girls are all the same like that.  I don't know what we did to give you the idea that you had to be some master in your field by the time you were thirty.' ...'
'I don't really want to be a master in my field,' Bean said.  'But I'd like not to be a complete and total f*ckup.'
Here we expected our mother to rebuke Bean for her language, but she didn't.  She just smiled indulgently and said, 'Oh, honey, we're all f*ckups in our own special ways.' " (p. 308)

Oh...ain't it the truth!


  1. Oh my goodness! I'm off to add this to my wishlist!

  2. A peacock bloom of sticky notes -- I LOVE it :)

    This has been on my TBR list since it was first released. I have yet to do anything about that.