The Weird Sisters

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Weird Sisters

My experience with school gym class was amusingly stereotypical. I well and truly hated it. I can still see myself, standing in the freshly mown green of a ballfield, calmly watching as a fat round softball rudely crashed into the daydream I was lost inside and rolled past me as if in slow motion. My lack of rapid retrieval caused our side to lose the game. Ah, well. See, my problem - other than that daydreaming thing - was the total lack of a competitive nature. If we won, well, good for us. If the other team won, well, good on them. It just didn’t really matter to me. This affliction was brought on, as I see it, by an absence of sisters. For as an only child, I had no one I needed to outrun or outdo - no rival to battle for my parents’ attentions. Exquisitely happy in my solitude, I relished my role as observer, and that is not exactly a highly prized quality in a softball player.

Having had none, sisters have consequently been a source of fascination for me since childhood. I would sit around the dinner tables of my friends and their sisters, in sharp, covert study of the interactions they shared - a pint-sized, ponytailed Margaret Mead on a journey inside the culture of sisterhood. I caught their sidelong glances and barely sheathed barbs - the fierce loyalties, deep love, and contention. I watched as they sabotaged each other and defended each other, learning all the while that theirs was a lifelong bond as curious as it was indestructible. I pondered the purported personality traits dictated by birth order. Were they accurate, or nothing more than myth? Was the oldest always the solid over-achiever, the youngest always the most beloved? And was the middle one doomed to forever be waving her arms just to be noticed between them?

I studied the March sisters, the Dashwood’s and Bennet’s. Read all I could on the Mitford’s, the Bouvier’s and Bronte’s. I spent time time in Ballybeg, Ireland with the five Mundy sisters of the poignant film, Dancing at Lughnasa. I wandered the streets of New York with Hannah and hers.

And now I have just finished a new book that took me on yet another tantalizing expedition into this exotic landscape of sisterhood. The Weird Sisters is writer Eleanor Brown’s first novel and it’s a captivating read. She has to be either a gifted clairvoyant or a sister herself, for Ms. Brown writes with such sparkling lucidity on the relationships between sisters, giving the reader a back stage pass to the complex interplay between them and decoding their secret language in such a way as to allow passage even to those who, like myself, are totally unfamiliar with the landscape. The sisters in this novel, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, are the daughters of a Shakespearean professor whose love of the Bard is so all-encompassing that he not only named his three daughters accordingly, but also possesses a bewildering tendency to quote the great writer in every single conversation he has. With armloads of painful secrets accompanying them, the sisters have returned home to care for their ailing mother and immediately find themselves falling back into familiar roles they are no longer certain they actually want to play.
With a voice both unique and engaging, Eleanor Brown has reawakened my fascination with sisters as well as my admiration for a story well told. If you have sisters yourself, no doubt you’ll be nodding your head in recognition on practically every page. If, like me, you have none, then I encourage you to open this new book and allow Ms. Brown to lead you into their world. I know you’ll enjoy the journey.