The thorny relationship between sisters has offered a mother lode of material for writers dating back to the start of time. Shakespeare tackled it in King Lear; in modern times, authors that vary from Louisa May Alcott to Julia Glass and Jane Smiley have put their personal spin on this theme.
Now debut author Eleanor Brown takes her turn. Meet Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, three sisters named for Shakespearean heroines by their eccentric and professorial father. These are women who look very much alike, maintain a common family bond, but if truth be told, don't like each other very much.
Ms. Brown defines the roles that sisters are inevitably forced to play within the structure of the family. She writes, "Who would Bean be if she dropped her beautiful mask? Who would Cordy be if she stepped up to the plate in her own life? And who would Rose be if she weren't the responsible one anymore?"
These are the questions the three sisters are forced to explore when twists of life bring the two younger prodigal sisters back to their collegial hometown, just at the point when their mother has received a breast cancer diagnosis. Each is at a cross point: Rose must decide whether to burst free from her self-imposed safety net, spread her wings, and follow her fiancée to his once-in-a-lifetime job in London. Bean is running from significant debt that she needed "to play her part effectively: the shoes, clothes, the makeup, the drinks at bars and clubs where a bottle of water alone ran nearly ten dollars." And Cordy? The baby of the family has discovered that she herself is pregnant with her own baby.
Eleanor Brown chooses to use the third-person plural to demonstrate the "we-ness" of these sisters, who are threads of the same cloth, tied in together for life. Third-person plural is not an easy tense to pull off, and truth be known, there is an awkwardness in it from time to time, although I certainly applaud her intentions. Similarly, the Shakespeare aphorisms that the father regularly spouts - "communicating his deepest feelings in the words of a man who has been dead for almost four hundred years" -- sometimes come across as gimmicky.
Of course, the exploration of sisterhood is complicated, as these characters show. Ms. Brown writes, "We weren't going to talk about it, we weren't going to share any feelings or discuss any arrangements, not going to bond in any type of movie montage moment where emotional music swelled as we hugged and wept for our mother's loss and our own fear. Instead, we were going to wrap ourselves in cloaks woven from self-pity and victimhood, refusing to admit that we might be able to help each other if we'd only open up."
It's that "opening up" process that is mined within these pages. By the end of the book, there will be growth in each and every character, some predictable, some a surprise. There are many "weird sisters" out there who will recognize their own roles and their own family dynamics.