April 26, 2011


by Eleanor Brown
366 pages, Putnam Adult (Kindle edition)

Review by J. S. Colley

The Weird Sisters derives its title from the three witches in MacBeth, aptly named for more reasons than one. 

The three sisters grew up in the small college town of Barnwell, Ohio, the daughters of a Shakespearean scholar (in fact, they are each named after one of the Bard’s characters) and an absent-minded mother.  The three sisters—to paraphrase the author—love each other but just don’t happen to like each other very much.

If that is the case then the Andreas girls put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Their dislike of each other is often not very apparent and, when it is, seems very superficial. I come from a large family and have two sisters of my own, so I know the full-metal-jacket destructiveness of sisterly discord.

So what is this book about? I suppose it is about breaking the constraint of birth order shackles—about each of the sisters finding her true self. Pick up a book on birth order traits and you will already have the sisters figured out. Rosalind (Rose), the first born, has stayed home to take care of their parents and is the responsible one. Bianca (Bean), the middle child, feels left out and forgotten so she acts out and seeks attention any way she can. Cordelia (Cordy), the youngest, is a carefree spirit, spoiled and irresponsible.

The three sisters converge at their childhood home, ostensibly, to take care of their mother who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. In reality, the two younger sisters are in no hurry to return home, even after hearing the dreadful news, until fate imposes its own selfish reasons for them to do so. In fact, the mother’s health seems little more than a dull finger poke on the surface of their self-absorbed bubbles and, for that matter, little more than a plot device for the author. (Although the mother’s disease and ultimate mastectomy gives us one of the more poignant lines in the novel: “...it was still a wound, wasn’t it? Not yet a scar.”)

Not that I blame the two youngest girls for not wanting to rush home. The parents appear to have been woefully neglectful at times—the father with his nose always buried deep in the folds of a book, the mother often off in la-la land. Instead of the father having any meaningful communication with his family he uses quotes from the Bard to do the talking for him. When they were young, the mother left the sisters alone long enough for one of them to be badly burned. Yet the girls (or the author) never seem to begrudge these would-be parental fatal flaws. No need to warn Ms. Brown of going to the dark side—she doesn’t even seem to know that one exists. 

While I find the overall writing agreeable and the writer’s well-executed use of past tense with first-person plural narrative admirable (these reasons, in the end, make the novel worth reading), I found the characters, and the conflicts, predictable and banal at best.

This could have been a powerful book but it is obvious the author wanted to keep it light—to not offend. However, in doing so, I feel she missed an opportunity to create a really meaningful piece of literature.

Perhaps this is one time that going to the dark side would have been a good thing.

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