Weird Sisters (Brown)

The Weird Sisters 
Eleanor Brown, 2011
Penguin Group USA
336 pp.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Born—ca. 1973
Where—outside Washington, D.C., USA
Education—M.A., in literature (incl. a year at Oxford University)
Currently—lives outside Denver, Colorado

Eleanor Brown is the author of two novels: The Light of Paris (2016) and The Weird Sisters (2011), which became a New York Times bestseller, receiving both popular and critical praise.  Her writing has also appeared in anthologies, magazines, and journals.

She was born in the Washington D.C. area, one of three sisters. She taught middle school for seven years, earned an M.A. in literature, and now teaches writing workshops in the Denver, Colorado, area. She lives with thriller writer J.C. Hutchins. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
A family drama, gracefully costumed in academic garb and lit with warm comedy, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished…if you know a Stratfordian who's always quoting the Bard, get thee to a bookstore…Brown is such a clever writer, and she's written such an endearing story about sisterly affection and the possibilities of redemption, that it's easy to recommend The Weird Sisters.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

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.
Publishers Weekly

This lovely debut novel is a tale of three sisters: Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia. Named by their father, a famous Shakespeare professor who communicates primarily in Shakespearean verse, they grew up surrounded by books near the campus of a small Midwestern college. Rose, the oldest, stays close to home and follows her father into academia. Bean, the middle child, leaves home for an exciting life in New York City. Cordy, the youngest, drifts aimlessly across the country. Life isn't turning out to be what the sisters expected, so each decides separately to return home to care for their sick mother. The sisters are less than thrilled when they learn all three have run home. Unfortunately, the key to starting the next chapters of their lives isn't hiding between the pages of one of their beloved books. Verdict: This novel should appeal to Shakespeare lovers, bibliophiles, fans of novels in academic settings, and stories of sisterhood. The narration is a creative and original blending of the three "Weird Sisters" as one. —Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll., VA
Library Journal

There are no false steps in this debut novel: the humor, lyricism, and realism characterizing this lovely book will appeal to fans of good modern fiction as well as stories of family and of the Midwest. —Ellen Loughran

In a debut about growing up, secrets and failures are predictably resolved when a family crisis reunites three bright but unhappy siblings. As the daughters of a Shakespeare scholar, the Andreas girls are no strangers to the Bard. Oldest Rosalind (known as Rose) is named after the heroine of As You Like It, Bianca (Bean) has the name of the tamed shrew's sister and daddy's girl Cordelia (Cordy) bears the name of King Lear's devoted youngest. Their "weird"ness refers to Macbeth, although the three are far from witch-like, just averagely bookish women grappling with their unusual upbringing and some dubious adult choices. Drawn home to Barnwell, Ohio, because of their mother's breast cancer, the sisters reassemble uneasily in their parents' house—footloose Cordy, now pregnant; self-hating, morally dubious Bean, sacked after embezzling from her New York employers; and overly dutiful Rose. Quirky and perky, Brown's narrative uses light comedy to balance the serious life issues. The family's habit of quoting Shakespeare at every turn is less amusing, and there's also the curious plural narrative voice—"our sister," "our parents,"—seemingly the collective point of view of all three daughters. The story itself is a lengthy account of the women facing their demons, assisted by saintly parents, friends and neighbors who offer jobs, reassurance and romance. All's well that ends well. Readable, upmarket, non-mold-breaking escapism.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1.The Andreas family is dedicated to books, particularly Shakespeare. Would the family be different if their father were an expert on a different writer? Edgar Allan Poe, let's say, or Mark Twain? What if they were a family of musicians or athletes, rather than readers? How might that change their dynamic? Is there an interest that unites your family in the same way that reading unites the Andreas family?

2.The narration is omniscient first person plural ("we" rather than "I"). Why do you think the author chose to write the novel in this way? Did you like it?

3.Which sister is your favorite? Why? Which sister do you most identify with? Are they the same character?

4.Do you have any siblings? If so, in what way is your relationship with them similar to the relationship among the Andreas sisters? In what way is it different?

5.Each of the sisters has a feeling of failure about where she is in her life and an uncertainty about her position as a grown-up. Are there certain markers that make you an adult, and if so, what are they?

6.In what ways are the sisters' problems of their own making? Does this make them more or less sympathetic?

7.The narrator says that God was always there if the family needed him, "kind of like an extra tube of toothpaste under the sink." Is that true, or does the family's religion have a larger effect on the sisters than they claim? How does your own family's faith, or lack thereof, influence you?

8.In many ways, the Andreas sisters' personalities align with proposed birth-order roles: Rose, the driven caregiver; Bean, the rebellious pragmatist; and Cordy, the free-spirited performer. How important do you think birth order is? Do you see those traits in your own family or in people you know?

9.Father Aidan tells Bean, "Your story, Bean, is the story of your sisters. And it is past time, I think, for you to stop telling that particular story, and tell the story of yourself. Stop defining yourself in terms of them. You don't just have to exist in the empty spaces they leave." Do you agree with Father Aidan? Is it possible to identify one's self not in relationship to one's siblings or family?

10.Is it irresponsible of Cordy to keep her baby?

11.How does the Andreas family deal with the mother's illness? How would your family have coped differently?

12.The sisters say that "We have always wondered why there is not more research done on the children of happy marriages." How does their parents' love story affect the sisters? How did your own parents' relationship affect you?

13.What do you think of the sisters' father, James? Is he a good parent? What about their mother?

14.Why do you think the mother is never given a name?

15.The narrators' mother admits that she ended up with the girls' father because she was scared to venture out into the world. Yet she doesn't seem to have any regrets. Do you think there are people who are just not meant to leave home or their comfort zone?

16.Bean and Cordy initially want to leave Barnwell behind, yet they remain, while Rose is the one off living in Europe. Do you think people sometimes become constrained by childhood perceptions of themselves and how their lives will be? How is your own life different from the way you thought it would turn out?

17.When you first saw the title, The Weird Sisters, what did you think the book would be about? What do you think the title really means?

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