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The Weird Sisters Paperback – February 7, 2012
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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?
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?
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.)
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Top customer reviews
All three sisters gather together in their small college hometown when their mother has a health crisis. Rose is the steady, solid eldest sister; Bean is the chic big-city middle sister, and Cordelia is the flighty baby of the family. Although these seem to be perhaps near-stereotypical roles, Brown writes with such flair as to give each sister some esoteric uniqueness. The story does not fall prey to predictability as each of the sisters faces her biggest fears and has to decide whether she has the courage to tackle them head-on. The narration of the story is unique in that it is done by a composite of all three sisters speaking as one voice.
The weakness of this book is that all of these sisters have issues, as all human beings do, but Brown seems perhaps too eager to focus on the genesis of these problems as they relate to being sisters. What is only mentioned in passing is the role of their parents in developing the traits of each of these women; their father, for example, has a lot to answer for. Instead of probing this more deeply he is portrayed more as a harmless eccentric.
Despite this minor flaw, this is altogether a lovely read, and I recommend it highly.