The story follows the course of their mother's chemotherapy and surgery, an ordeal that pushes the daughters to consider their parents' mortality and their own prospects. But these darker moments are leavened by strands of romantic comedy, the idealized charms of small-town life and flashbacks to the sisters' delightfully odd childhood in a home where opened books covered every surface.
The novel's greatest risk is its plural first-person narration, a rarely used perspective that works marvelously here. Alternately arch and casual, and always with a touch of comic melancholy, the three sisters together tell the whole story, an impossible "we" that traces each one's private anxieties and indiscretions, and subtly argues for their sisterly union even in moments of strident confrontation.
But I am not barren to bring forth complaints. The language in these pages can sometimes turn flat and cliched, and all the characters outside the Andreas family are merely walk-ons: The old spinster librarian is no more lifelike than my plastic Nancy Pearl action figure; the boyfriend banter is painfully cute and artificial. Despite all the claims about the family's bibliomania, we rarely get to see what anyone is actually reading, and it never seems to affect them any more than knitting or bird-watching might. Which raises a more fundamental problem about the family's devotion to Shakespeare: Brown's characters display a concordance-like grasp of the plays and can always lay their hands on an apt quotation to engage in a little Bard-banter, but they seem oblivious to the heart of these great works, reducing Shakespeare's words to clever slogans, like the Monet umbrellas for sale at the Met.
But let these objections exeunt stage right! Even the Immortal Bard could clot up a great play like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with some tedious prattle. Brown is such a clever writer, and she's written such an endearing story about sisterly affection and the possibilities of redemption, that it's easy to recommend "The Weird Sisters." Take Polonius's good advice and "read on this book."
Charles, The Post's fiction critic, reviews books every Wednesday.
the weird sisters
By Eleanor Brown
Amy Einhorn/Putnam. 320 pp. $24.95