I know, it has been forever since I got a book review up here for you. You’ll be shocked to hear that I keep getting distracted. I’m in the middle of at least five books. (There’s a list at the bottom of the post, just in case you’re curious.) The Andreas family is much the same, so to say I relate…that would be an understatement.
I really enjoyed Eleanor Brown’s novel The Weird Sisters. The Andreas family is filled with people as addicted to books as I am. James Andreas is a professor of Shakespeare at a small, well respected college in the small town of Barnwell, and he speaks almost entirely in Shakespeare quotes. At least half the time, no one really knows what he’s talking about. However, his passion for The Bard has given everyone in his family an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare’s work. He and his wife named their daughters after Shakespeare’s heroines, Rosalind (Rose) from As You Like It, Bianca (Bean) from The Taming of the Shrew, and Cordelia (Cordy) from King Lear.
The family is all living in their childhood home after their mother is diagnosed with cancer. Rose never really left Barnwell, choosing to take an academic track and stay to look after their parents. She is a mathematics professor, the perfectionist, the caretaker, the responsible one. Very much a typical first born child in the family. As her namesake is an only child, Rose shares a few characteristics with the As You Like It character. She mentions, several times, that she feels like the only child again with her sisters gone from the family home. As the one who stayed, she’s made her life in Barnwell, and hasn’t looked at the potential outside the life she’s created around the care of her family. She’s built a career, found love in a fellow professor, and is needed. She’s the responsible one. When her fiance is offered a visiting professorship in England, Rose faces some hard decisions.
Bean, the middle child, returns after the diagnosis, but her mother’s illness covers the fact that she has no where else to go. Bean gets to share more than just being the second daughter with Bianca in Taming of the Shrew. Considered to the be the “pretty one” in the family, Bean, like Bianca, is an expert in maintaining a facade. She’s escaped Barnwell to leave the shadows of her sisters. Her feelings of inadequacy send her to New York. There she isn’t Bean, she’s Bianca, and she builds a life that is exciting, fulfilling, and successful on the surface. As always that facade comes with a price, and her forced departure from New York causes her to take a closer look at who she really is.
Cordy, well she’s the vagabond, and after spending the last several years wandering the country, change is as much forced upon her as chosen. Just as Cordelia is the beloved daughter in King Lear, so is Cordy the doted upon baby of the family. She’s never had to be particularly responsible, she works in restaraunts and at odd jobs to earn enough money to move on to the next town, the next music festival, the next…whatever she decides. Cordy catches rides with acquaintances masquerading as friends, and sleeps in abandoned houses with groups of like-minded people. When she gets in a bind, she calls home. The cause of her forced return creates a rift between Cordy and her father, just as Cordelia’s refusal to profess her love to King Lear causes a rift. Cordy comes home to grow some roots and responsibility.
The Andreas’s love each other deeply, but they feel alone and disconnected. Communication is not their strong suit. (What? The kids of a man who only speaks in Shakespeare quotes have a hard time communicating?) They aren’t what I would call particularly close, but they have a deep and abiding bond of history and love, no matter how insane they make each other.
Books are the family passion, and there are half read books littering every room. Growing up, they all learned that you don’t go anywhere without something to read. At one point a sister picks up and begins to read a book she found in the pantry. (Does anyone else have this problem, or am I the only one who’s found a book in someplace like the fridge?) Rose follows her family members around, placing bookmarks and saving them from broken spines and dog eared pages. That casual disregard for the books, something the younger sisters take for granted, flows over into other areas of their lives. That sense that someone else will clean up after them, pervades a lot of their choices leading up to their return to Barnwell. While Rose stays so focused on the care of others, she doesn’t think much about what she really wants.
I found the voice of The Weird Sisters very interesting. It is written in plural first person, narrated by all Andreas sisters. (Our mother, our sister, etc.) This is a voice that you don’t see often in novels, and this unique voice makes this more a collective story than individual story lines woven together. Enforcing the theme that while the sister’s may not always like each other, and have an especially difficult time communicating, they do love each other. Like it or not, their stories are intertwined, because they’re family. You can’t really know any of them without knowing something of their sisters. Their shared history, their family, as well as their choices made them who they are now.
I don’t know that I’d call this a “coming of age” novel, because none of these women are children, but it definitely a novel of personal revelations and growth. They all learn more about who they are, about letting go of who they thought they were or who they feel they’re supposed to be, and work on embracing the individuals they are. Whether that means grasping an opportunity for something different, settling down in one place, or finding the things that really make them happy, each sister faces the same challenge we all do. That’s why I loved this book, because their struggles are the same ones we all face from time to time, aging parents, familial relationships, and self-discovery.
We came home because we were failures. We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else.
Those opening lines…as someone who moved home for a short time as an adult, I can tell you there were brief bursts in which I felt the same. Right from those first words, this novel hooked me.
Books Currently Reading (Holy cow, Jessica! I had no idea…really.)
- Smoke & Mirrors – Neil Gaiman
- The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglass Adams
- Allegiant – Veronica Roth
- The Clockwork Prince – Cassandra Clare
- The Dark Witch – Nora Roberts
- Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
‘Til next time,