Friday, August 10, 2012
The first instance of this came when I was assigned Annie Dillard's An American Childhood for a summer reading assignment, for our Junior AP English class (I talk about it here.) I intensely identified with her funny, embarrassing, and often poignant anecdotes, about growing up, then moving on, and I've read the book several times in the short, busy years since. The nostalgic, regretful, and yet altogether celebratory nature of her writing helped me get through a very transitive part of my life: her words helped me get past the devastating realization that I wasn't a kid anymore - that I'd soon be saying goodbye to the people, places, and things that formed my first eighteen years - but that those memories would stand by me forever, and the very ideas that helped grow my spirit as a child, would continue to push me towards the sun as an adult. I continue to be very cautious about what sort of people to whom I recommend this book, simply because I feel such a strong connection to it, that in handing it out to just anyone, I would be revealing very personal emotions, that I feel, in the form of someone else's words. (If that makes any sense to anyone other than me.) The Cheerleader is reading it right now, for a summer assignment, and to be perfectly honest, I'll probably read it once more, before I'm off to Seattle.
Anyways, when searching through the large stack of books my mother lent me at the beginning of the summer, I came across The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown. Usually, my mom and I share a good, healthy admiration and regard for the best of the best (usually American) classics... but this stack is different. I've already voiced some of my apprehensions about this group of novels - handpicked by Mom - and what sort of literature it seems she's recently gone after: the goopy, emotional stuff, grown saccharine sweet and almost over-ripe while resting at the tops of the New York Times lists. Most of them are well-written, though. I guess I'm just trying to tread the line between the World Lit and Teen sections of the local library, without wandering into the hazardous Contemporary Women's Fiction stuck in the middle. It's just skewed towards an older audience than me, and it makes me uncomfortable. Besides, all of these women have problems, and as a soon-to-be college freshman, I'm terrified of the future enough already!
The principle that appealed to me about The Weird Sisters, however, was that the story really was about - and the narrative was really shared between - three sisters, much like those in my family. I (#1 of 3) actually read out the characteristics of the three to the Cheerleader (#2 of 3), and she laughed aloud: the nervous, bossy, borderline-Obsessive-Compulsive eldest; the flirty, fashionable, and essentially self-destructive second; and the flighty, irresponsible, yet still-beloved baby sister. If the title of the novel had ended with (And One Weird Kid Brother), I would have accused Brown of peeping in windows. This is where that whole terrifying-honesty-and-truthful-description-of-life-thing comes into play.
The novel is about, you guessed it, three very different sisters, coming home, and together, to assist their ailing mother in her fight against breast cancer, while attempting to both get their lives on track, and clean up each others' messes as well. The differences between us and them are many (we, for instance, are nowhere near the median age of 30, nor are we likely to allow each other to monumentally mess up our lives as badly as these three have managed); however, hidden between the lines are moving messages on the nature of relationships, especially those with our sisters, that I really identified with. And, of course, the eldest sister was someone I really did pay attention to, as the brief, aforementioned generalization of her character totally applies to me as well, and I could see how someone like me could possibly grow up to be someone like her.
The difference is, I won't. And my sisters and I actually like each other. And there's no way we'd let each other stray so far from the values we were raised on as the incredibly misguided women in this book. However, letting those alone, I felt that The Weird Sisters was a vivid portrait of a flawed, yet functional, family, who come to understand the strengths of their relationships in a realistic way. The real treat for me, is that the occupation of the father -a specialist on the Bard - has impacted the women of the story so much, that they randomly spout his words, and quotes from all of Shakespeare's works are peppered throughout the dialogue.That being said, this book was not my style, and certainly not geared towards an eighteen year old, so my mom is bound to enjoy it more than I did.
The difference is, she grew up with ONLY sisters, and no smelly brother to even it all out. :)