By Carolyn Williams
Eleanor Brown’s debut novel, “The Weird Sisters,” attempts to bring the language of and love for Shakespeare to a more mainstream audience. The title is an allusion to the witches of “Macbeth,” and the connections do not end there.
The story revolves around the lives of the three grown Andreas sisters. Their father, a professor specializing in Shakespeare at a small liberal arts college in Ohio, has named them each after one of the Bard’s heroines, and each suffers under the weight of her namesake’s legacy. The eldest, Rosalind (“As You Like It”), feels enormous pressure to find her Orlando. Although she is happily engaged to a fellow professor, she balks at the idea of change, hating the notion of feeling unneeded after a lifetime of being responsible. She leaps at the opportunity afforded by their mother’s newfound breast cancer to move back in and care for her. She must eventually face her fear of moving outside of her own comfort zone or lose her fiancé.
The second sister, Bianca (“The Taming of the Shrew”), called Bean by her family, has no trouble finding a date but realizes that her glittering New York City life is empty when she is abruptly fired from her job on grounds of financial fraud. A failure, she slinks back home, making the excuse of helping the family when she is in actuality licking her wounds and attempting to extricate herself from the crushing dual burden of her debt and her guilt.
The youngest of the three is predictably named after King Lear’s favorite daughter Cordelia and is called Cordy. She is a lovable college dropout, nearing 30 but still following bands and living a carefree nomadic lifestyle until she realizes she has accidentally become pregnant. Never having dealt with any real repercussions for her irresponsibility, she too returns home under the guise of helping her mother cope, while really seeking solace and guidance for herself.
Throughout Brown’s novel, the family members quote Shakespeare back and forth to each other, alluding to the works in a way which, though certainly clever, eventually becomes tiresome. Though Brown clearly has a firm grasp of the Bard’s vernacular, the overall effect feels somewhat forced. The book’s plot, simple enough that it should work well, is tired and, at times, unbelievably cliché. As Bean chases a married man, Rose obsesses over the idea that her family may not need her as much as she needs them, and Cordy falls conveniently in love with a local businessman she knows from her college days who is fine with dating a pregnant woman.
“The Weird Sisters” is by no means a bad book, but at times it suffers from its constant internal comparisons to Shakespeare’s works. Still, Brown delivers a diverting read and, as expected, all’s well that end’s well by the novel’s finish.