Some books, when they are first introduced to the reading public, don't launch, they explode. Such was the case with "The Weird Sisters", a debut novel, and an Amy Einhorn imprint (an imprint that has its own built-in fan base). In every magazine, and on the blogs, this book was already claiming reviewer's top spots for 2011 - it was the darling of the publishing industry. I knew it had a literary thread through its plot, and I knew it had a clever point of view, so doing my Amy Einhorn two-step, I jigged to the computer and ordered the audio from the library. Coincidentally, it arrived on my doorstep as I was leaving for our February Books, Babes and Bordeaux meeting, I brought it along for show and tell, and alas! It was our March read. I couldn't have been more excited.
Synopsis: The sisters Andreas (Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia) grew up in the Midwest with their stay-at-home mother and Shakespearean professor father. Not only were all three girls named after Shakespearean characters, literature itself played a major role in their lives, with their father spewing out quotes from the Bard at every opportunity. But the girls were always at odds with each other, with their separate and distinct personalities. As the book's tagline states "We love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much". As adults, Rose stays local, ever the dutiful firstborn, and the other two scatter in desperation to establish their own identities.
But their complicated, bickering selves are reunited when they are told that their mother has breast cancer. This announcement coincides with meltdowns in their personal lives, and The Weird Sisters come back home hoarding secrets and hoping perhaps to get their lives back on the right path.
My thoughts: In a way, this was a charming story about family reunion and rediscovery. All that messy family stuff...the sibling rivalries, the hangups, birth order stereotypes, living up to expectations...these are things we can all relate to. Whether you are the oldest who must be the responsible one, the youngest who is wayward and irresponsible, or the one caught in the middle who will do anything to get attention, you will find yourself relating.
But then there is this thing with the narration in FIRST PERSON PLURAL. The narrator talks for all three girls as if they are one body. It seems to have readers perplexed in its use. It is a perspective I don't think I've ever seen used before, but it is clever because it allows us, simultaneously, to enter the mind of any one sister, and also know how the other sisters feel about it. So despite the fact that these three think they couldn't be more different, we see that they are more alike than they think.
For any bibliophile, it can't get more cozy than when you read about a family raised under the influence of literature. We're instantly among family when we hear about youthful days spent at the library, and the distrust of anyone who doesn't read:
“Because despite his money and his looks and all the good-on-paper attributes he possessed, he was not a reader, and well, let’s just say that is the sort of nonsense up with which we will not put.”
On the other hand, I think I would have ripped out all of my hair by the age of 15 if I had to listen to my father quote Shakespeare any time he needed to make a point, perhaps as his only means of relating to his daughters. Lord have mercy, but that was obnoxious. I would have thrown a fit or two, and screamed "just say what you mean!". I had to chuckle, because even though the sisters had dealt with this quoting business their whole lives, even THEY didn't know what he was talking about half the time.
Generally, the writing was a glorious thing to behold...smart, rich and personal. It exuded warmth and allowed the reader to connect with the characters, but all the while you felt like you were treading on territory of the well-educated. Chick lit this was not.
A word about the audio production: Our narrator for this book was Kirsten Potter, a voice that sounded very familiar to me but I can't recall from where. Her experience with narration is formidable, and includes "Brooklyn" by Colm Toibon, "The Lotus Eaters" by Tatjana Soli, and "The Wave" by Susan Casey. She has a throaty, husky sound that was a pleasure to experience.
Books, Babes and Bordeaux weigh in: Overall, the group enjoyed this book. It wasn't their favorite...they didn't necessarily LOVE it. But it did prompt us to talk about the almost pre-destined roles within the family structure. The first-born overachiever, the middle child syndrome, the spoiled wayward youngest. Stupid sister stories were exchanged, and we all had a good laugh. We discussed the reasons why the father only spoke in "Shakespearean" and how it was very annoying. Not everyone thought the first person plural structure of the narration was clever...some thought it was strange and never got used to it.
There was a very long, convoluted debate over what to read next. Serious consideration was given to reading "Water for Elephants" (even though some of us have already read it) so we could see the movie together. But ultimately we passed on that and decided on a thriller with "Little Face" by Sophie Hannah.