Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Books Yay!: The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown

So okay here's the concept: the three Andreas sisters - named after characters from random Shakespeare plays despite there being numerous Shakespearean sister triplets that could have been used for greater effect - exist in the sense of the weird sisters from Macbeth, speaking in the first person plural and knowing each other intricately except for when it's convenient to the plot for them to not understand each other.  They are gathered at home to deal with their mother's cancer, but they of course all carry their own drama and in Shakespearean fashion there are all kinds of relationship movements and familial woes and mysterious debts and pregnancies.  Things happen and things get resolved.

I would like to be nice about this book, particularly since the concept is a neat one and it apparently was an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month for January of 2011.  Unfortunately, this distinction only serves to make me nervous about the mental health of my fellow Internet denziens, because this book is just not...best anything. 

I thought a little bit about that last paragraph, went back and wrote the first one, and then came back here and I wonder if I'm being a little harsh.  I'm sure there are some things that The Weird Sisters is in fact the best at.  Let me see if I can come up with a few.

Best Random Smattering of Shakespearean Naming Conventions
The three sisters are named after Rosalind (As You Like It), Bianca (The Taming of the Shrew) and Cordelia (King Lear).  Brown references Rosalind's in-play disguise as a male by putting her in what Brown appears to consider a male profession - college teaching - and putting her in the masculine role in her marriage according to tired gender roles.  Bianca is a temptress character who always seems to get her way with men.  Cordelia is distant and has trouble taking her father's advice.  But of course Brown wants to get tricky with this, so Rosalind winds up taking a more feminine role and moving to Oxford to join her husband, Bianca sees her powers of seduction fail and must find a way to cope without them, and Cordelia winds up learning the true meaning of family.  Why Brown picked these three characters and pulled in three plays when she was already overtaxing herself with the weird sisters conceit is beyond me.  Oh!  And the actual weird sisters are from Macbeth, so there's literally no connection anywhere. 

Best Frequency of Tense Shifts
Thanks to the weird sisters first person plural concept, Brown is forced to engage in some truly horrendous tense shifts.  Though the period of time that the story covers is not large - several months, plus some flashbacks - there are some truly awe-inspiring tense shifts that make the whole enterprise a convoluted mess.  It makes it difficult to track the progress of the story and quite frankly the idea sounds a lot more interesting theoretically than it IS in practice. 

Best Heap of Bullshit About a Family's Interaction
The girls' father is a renowned professor at the local university - though the college is pooh-poohed as being somewhat podunk and not that prestigious, so it's hard to say what the hell a professor of his apparent world-class status is doing at a piece of shit college, but whatever - and apparently we are supposed to believe that he speaks almost entirely in quotes from Shakespeare.  I have a healthy respect for Shakespeare's incredible linguistic talents and the breadth of his catalog, but I'm sorry, you do not transact your life in Shakespearean verse in the 2000s, and you certainly don't do it without your family murdering you and hiding your body in the woods.  Oh, and of course we're also supposed to believe that the professor's wife and three daughters have all memorized Shakespeare's complete works as well so that they can communicate and toss off vague witticisms.  

Apparently my "bests" aren't really that besty.  I found this book incredibly pretentious and irritating, all in the service of a plot that was cribbed from the latest and greatest Lifetime movies.  It's a shame, because I think in the right hands, a book written in the voice of the weird sisters would be interesting.  Unfortunately, Eleanor Brown decided to take up the project.  I'm not actually saying she's a bad writer - there's good work hiding under the crap in this book - but this simply exceeded her grasp of Shakespeare and her ability to execute. 

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