Having spent a good chunk of my adult life as an appendage to academia (grad-student spouse in a college town, then wife of a faculty member at a small college in a mid-sized city), I still tend to be drawn to fiction set in that world. The three Andreas sisters grew up as daughters of a Shakespeare scholar at a small midwestern college, and were shaped by both those factors. Each was named for a character in a Shakespeare play, and essentially speaks Shakespeare as a second language - its the method by which their father is most comfortable communicating; and each attended Barnwell College. But then their paths diverged. Rose, the eldest, became a math professor at a nearby university, a woman of numbers rather than words; her younger sisters, Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia, were more ambitious to get out of Barnwell than anything else. However, when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, each of the sisters already has another reason of her own to come home to help care for her, and to rediscover the town that still has a hold on them all.
Debut novelist Eleanor Brown chooses to narrate in the unusual first-person plural, giving the sisters a collective voice even as she relates the individual threads of their story. I always find that interesting, and I really liked the way she used it here, particularly when she employed it to make wry observations about one sister's behavior or thoughts as if they were observed by the others. Given the fact that the sisters really do have issues with one another - as in many families, they wouldn't choose to associate with each other if they werent related to each other - I thought that it provided an interesting counterpoint to have them speak as one.
I thought the novels strengths were in the writing and in Brown's portrayal of the mix of friction and fondness in the sisters' relationships with each other. The liberal use of quotes from Shakespeare throughout the narrative and characters conversations adds a highbrow element, but not an off-putting one - given the novel's framework, it fits. I didn't find the sisters themselves quite so compelling, though; I appreciate that Brown didn't try too hard to make them endearing, but sometimes it felt like she went too far in the opposite direction from that, which I think really works best in satire - and this novel is much more earnest than satirical. The story itself covers pretty familiar ground; Brown's approach to it is unique, but I didn't feel she was really saying anything new.
I liked The Weird Sisters, especially as a first novel, and I'll be interested in seeing the progress of Eleanor Browns writing career. However, I honestly wanted to love this book the way so many other readers do...and I can't honestly say I did. I may like it more in retrospect, or even grow to love it, but now, I just liked this book.