While the title of Eleanor Brown’s “The Weird Sisters” instantly evokes pictures of the three haggard crones from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Brown’s three sisters, three women in their 30s from a tiny Midwestern college town, are decidedly less imposing, and Brown’s story is definitely more of a contemporary fiction than a Shakespearean fantasy. The sisters do, however, have a connection to the bard.
Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia are the daughters of a Shakespeare professor at tiny liberal arts school Barnwell College. Their father’s Shakespeare obsession extends far beyond his job, however, as evidenced by his daughters’ names—each that of a different Shakespearean heroine. He lives, breathes and sleeps Shakespeare, and the three girls, Rose, Bean and Cordy for short, were raised on the Bard’s verses. To this day, the family communicates at least half the time with Shakespeare’s words, and that number is much higher for their father.
The reader encounters this literary family at a crossroad period in their lives. Each of the sisters has ventured out into the world, and each is dealing with very different problems. Rose is trying to figure out how to reconcile her homebody tendencies and her desire for freedom and a job with her love for her fiancé Jonathan, who is currently working in England.
Bean is battling crippling debt in the wake of her failure as a New Yorker, having stolen piles of money from the law firm at which she worked. And Cordy, always the free spirit, who spent the better parts of her life traveling aimlessly in vans and at shows with fellow hippies, finds out that she’s pregnant. The sisters, with no other place to really go, return home, all at the same time, where, to top it off, their mother is sick with breast cancer. They must learn to live not only with each other, but perhaps more importantly, with themselves.
“The Weird Sisters” is on the surface a novel of family, of coming together after years apart and learning to accept those nearest to you despite their faults and frustrating habits and even coming to eventually appreciate them. It is also a novel of trust, of learning to let go and open up to those who are all too willing to help and encourage you. But more than all, perhaps, it is a novel of healing. While the sisters’ mother is the obvious case, as she grapples throughout the novel with the cancerous disease that is sapping her strength and her soul, each of the sisters manifests her own method of healing as well.
Rose finds confidence in facing new countries and finally leaving the nest she had refused to admit she was attached to. Bean embraces her wrongdoing and begins working to counteract her sins and repay her mountainous debts. And Cordy comes to terms with the reinvention of her life and finally makes the choice to settle down. But their journey to acceptance is a difficult one, and each of the sisters, as independent as the characters after which they are named, must find her own path.
“The Weird Sisters” serves as a delightfully literary soothing reminder that really, in the end, everything will be okay. Don’t be put off by its Shakespearean nature and don’t feel that you have to review Macbeth before reading—all references are background, and they come off as charming rather than pretentious. If you’re looking for something light but still compelling, “The Weird Sisters” offers a satisfying story with a unique literary bent.