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The Weird Sisters Paperback – February 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Alex George, author of A Good American, interviews New York Times-bestselling author Eleanor Brown about The Weird Sisters.

Alex George: The Weird Sisters is centered on three adult sisters who move back to their childhood home, and the ways they react to this reintroduction to the family fold. You have moved about quite a lot during your adult life; did writing about going home have particular significance for you?

Alex George

Eleanor Brown: While I believe very much in the idea of blooming where you are planted, I also think there are certain places where we feel more comfortable, more “at home,” and I have definitely spent time seeking that. I’ve loved different things about all the places where I’ve lived, but they haven’t all been healthy or happy places for me. And that’s what the sisters in the story struggle with--what they want or think they want isn’t always the right thing for them, and where they live is part of that.

George: As the daughters of a Shakespearean professor, the sisters are named after characters from the Bard’s plays. You had a host of possibilities to choose from--I’m curious about how, and why, you settled on Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia.

Brown: I’m fascinated by the influences that contribute to making us who we are, and The Weird Sisters is deeply concerned with two of those: birth order and naming. I firmly believe that I would be a different person if my parents had given me a different name, just as the sisters in the book would be different if I had named them after other Shakespearean heroines.

I chose these specific names because the Shakespearean characters had specific traits I wanted to bring out in my characters. That’s the advantage of being an author instead of a parent--knowing how people are going to turn out before you name them!

George: The girls’ father is a gloriously eccentric professor, and the family members frequently resort to quoting lines from Shakespeare rather than expressing themselves in their own words. How did you find exactly the right quotation for each situation? And did you ever steer the characters’ conversation a certain way in order to incorporate a particular Shakespearean quotation?

Brown: Using Shakespearean quotations started as a way to imitate how families develop their own languages--nicknames, punch lines--and ended up expanding into a meditation on how families communicate, and how difficult it is to change patterns once they are set.

I did a great deal of research before and while I was writing the book, including rereading and re-watching a number of the plays, and keeping notes of particularly delicious lines. But I realized as I wrote that I couldn’t bend a scene just to use a line, so I would often go running back to my Complete Works or a Shakespeare concordance to find something appropriate. The family has such encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare’s works that they’re forever taking things completely out of context, which just contributes to the confusion over what they are trying to say. Take it from me, quoting Shakespeare when things get emotionally difficult is not a great way to communicate.

George: One of the many things I loved about The Weird Sisters is how, while the story is set firmly in the town of Barnwell, it is impossible to date it precisely. Why did you do that? In your mind, do you know when the story is set?

Eleanor Brown

Brown: There were two main reasons for leaving the book slightly unmoored in time. The first was that the Andreas family is unusual. They are a family of readers (and they’re more likely to read Shakespeare than the latest blockbuster novel) in a small college town in the summer, when things feel dreamlike and time moves differently. I wanted them to be “in the world, but not of it,” so leaving things indefinite felt appropriate.

The second is that as a reader, I worry that too many references to brand names, or celebrities, or technology, or politics, can make a book stale before its time, and I didn’t want that to happen with The Weird Sisters. If you read very closely and do some math, you can come up with a span of about a decade when the book could be set, but that doesn’t have a great influence on the story.

George Final question, and it’s fantasy time. You can put your novel into the hands of any one person in the world, in the knowledge that this person will read it. Whom do you choose, and why?

Brown: Writing The Weird Sisters was my way of figuring out the answers to questions that were troubling me: for instance, why, despite all my grown-up responsibilities, I didn’t feel like an adult; why family roles are so fixed; why, no matter what I achieved, I felt like a failure, like I was always falling behind everyone else. One of the great miracles of having this story published is the number of people of all ages who have said to me, “I feel the exact same way.”

Since giving it to myself would cause all kinds of disruptions in the space-time continuum, I suppose I’d like to give it to someone else who is struggling with some of those same questions, as a way of telling that person, “You’re not alone.”

(Photo of Alex George © Carole Patterson)

(Photo of Eleanor Brown © Joe Henson)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. You don't have to have a sister or be a fan of the Bard to love Brown's bright, literate debut, but it wouldn't hurt. Sisters Rose (Rosalind; As You Like It), Bean (Bianca; The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia; King Lear)--the book-loving, Shakespeare-quoting, and wonderfully screwed-up spawn of Bard scholar Dr. James Andreas--end up under one roof again in Barnwell, Ohio, the college town where they were raised, to help their breast cancer–stricken mom. The real reasons they've trudged home, however, are far less straightforward: vagabond and youngest sib Cordy is pregnant with nowhere to go; man-eater Bean ran into big trouble in New York for embezzlement, and eldest sister Rose can't venture beyond the "mental circle with Barnwell at the center of it." For these pains-in-the-soul, the sisters have to learn to trust love--of themselves, of each other--to find their way home again. The supporting cast--removed, erudite dad; ailing mom; a crew of locals; Rose's long-suffering fiancé--is a punchy delight, but the stage clearly belongs to the sisters; Macbeth's witches would be proud of the toil and trouble they stir up. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780425244142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425244142
  • ASIN: 0425244148
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (574 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eleanor Brown is the New York Times, national and international bestselling author of The Weird Sisters. The Weird Sisters was an IndieNext pick, an Amazon and Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

Eleanor lives in Colorado, where she is at work on her next novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

320 of 332 people found the following review helpful By A. George on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Well, what a breath of fresh air. I just loved this. Eleanor Brown has a unique and compelling voice, which she marshals to brilliant effect in this deeply affecting story about three sisters who have lost their way and retreat to the questionable comforts of their childhood home. She draws all her characters with deft precision and you can't help but care for them, no matter what faults they may have (and they all have faults.) Warning: this is one of those books which is best read alone. There are nuggets on every page that you'll want to share with whoever is sitting close to you, but they'd probably prefer just to read it for themselves. And it's funny as hell, too. Highly recommended.
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154 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Deborah VINE VOICE on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that I don't feel worthy to write a review about. I absolutely loved this book. Right from the beginning I was immediately sucked into the story. Any book about sisters and reading gets an automatic 5 star in my book. Coming from a family of three girls who all love reading, I felt drawn to this family like a moth to the light. I may not have loved everything that these sisters did but I loved reading about them, learning about them, and discovering more how their lives had an effect on everyone they came in contact with.

The story is deeply engaging and right from the beginning I felt as if I was connected with the characters. I both felt sympathized and got angry with all three women and their decisions. Even though we don't meet Cordy until a bit later on in the book, I felt as if I already knew her through Bean and Rosalie's views. Each sister holds a sad story but eventually overcomes it and finds a better and new outcome in life for herself.

The best part of the story for me was the obvious love of books. One of my favorite scenes in the book was when Bean is trying to explain to an ex boyfriend why she has time for reading. She talks about how she doesn't sit for hours in front a TV mindlessly watching. She always has a book on her so that way when she's at line in the store or in a waiting room she can just pull out her book and start reading. I just absolutely love how the whole family loves books. Another favorite part of the book was the different reading styles of the three sisters. From reading out front in everyone to avoiding everyone because of reading to hiding your reading from everyone, the three girls still know how to enjoy a good book. In this retrospect, they sound just like my family.
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173 of 199 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The thorny relationship between sisters has offered a mother lode of material for writers dating back to the start of time. Shakespeare tackled it in King Lear; in modern times, authors that vary from Louisa May Alcott to Julia Glass and Jane Smiley have put their personal spin on this theme.

Now debut author Eleanor Brown takes her turn. Meet Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, three sisters named for Shakespearean heroines by their eccentric and professorial father. These are women who look very much alike, maintain a common family bond, but if truth be told, don't like each other very much.

Ms. Brown defines the roles that sisters are inevitably forced to play within the structure of the family. She writes, "Who would Bean be if she dropped her beautiful mask? Who would Cordy be if she stepped up to the plate in her own life? And who would Rose be if she weren't the responsible one anymore?"

These are the questions the three sisters are forced to explore when twists of life bring the two younger prodigal sisters back to their collegial hometown, just at the point when their mother has received a breast cancer diagnosis. Each is at a cross point: Rose must decide whether to burst free from her self-imposed safety net, spread her wings, and follow her fiancée to his once-in-a-lifetime job in London. Bean is running from significant debt that she needed "to play her part effectively: the shoes, clothes, the makeup, the drinks at bars and clubs where a bottle of water alone ran nearly ten dollars." And Cordy? The baby of the family has discovered that she herself is pregnant with her own baby.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By MKelly on March 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I almost gave this book up in the middle, it just never really engaged me. I liked the overall premise of the story, but to me the character development was a bit flat, and I never really got to know the sisters. I did finish the book just because I was curious to see how the author ended it.
I didn't care for the tense the book was written in. I'm sure that there is a technical term for it, but it was confusing to me to have the narrator speak as one of the sisters, "our parents" for example, but then talk about each sister individually as a separate person describing what they were doing. I think that for me, that threw off the rhythm of the book, trying to figure out the voice of the narrator kept me from really connecting to the story.
Overall, an okay vacation read, but I probably won't read anything else by this author.
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