“I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last.” (The Tempest)One of the ‘weird sisters’ might have said this to another in Eleanor Brown’s debut novel. These three daughters of a Shakespeare scholar possessing vast repertoires of Bardian quotes might have missed this one, or shunned it out of mutual jealousy and need to keep up appearances. But coming home after years apart, they have all been in pickles.
Bookish members of a family where reading is both haven and hideout, the sisters call themselves ‘weird’ after Macbeth’s three witches, but Professor Andreas, their Will-obsessed and spouting father named them: Cordelia (King Lear), Rose (Rosalind, As You Like It), and Bean (Bianca, Taming of The Shrew).
When they receive news that their beloved, artistic mother has cancer, the sisters arrive, each variously adrift in her life, and lugging resentments and insecurities over her siblings’ perceived advantages in love, work, or parental favor. How their happily married and devoted (if thinly drawn) parents spawned these discontented 20-to-30-somethings isn’t clear. But Rose, a math professor and self-appointed (unnecessary) caretaker of her parents, bemoaning her fiancé’s temporary relocation abroad, eagerly reassumes the role of boss/protector to her sisters (also unnecessary). The chic, man-eating Manhattanite Bean fudged the books at work to binge-shop, until she was recently and humiliatingly caught. And Cordelia, the indulged youngest yet sweetest, a hand-to-mouth (and often hungry) nomad, now suddenly finds herself pregnant and unattached. Mom’s illness provides the convenient refuge they all seek.
Brown is a good storyteller. Though not exactly original, her tale is entertainingly chick-lit-ish, with romance, both seedy and princely, serendipity, and lessons learned. Listeners who like their Shakespeare a la Hallmark suitable for every occasion or thought will be especially charmed. As an audio experience, the novel’s communal first-person ‘we’ narration adds immediacy. But, intended perhaps to foreshadow or add irony, it sometimes sounds forced, given the sisters’ chronic disunity. Fortunately, actress Kirsten Potter brings it all elegantly, expertly together. She differentiates the sisters’ personalities and a host of characters from hip priest to (stereotypical) sternly kind librarian skillfully until the very “all’s well that ends well”. Elly Schull Meeks