Weird sisters: When Shakespeare plays second fiddle

Best-selling author Eleanor Brown is a book festival’s ideal guest: a voracious reader from a family of voracious readers who writes about voracious readers.

Brown’s first novel, The Weird Sisters, follows a Shakespeare scholar’s three daughters as they return to their Ohio hometown when their mother is stricken with cancer. Though Brown’s book has a cast of bibliophiles and is peppered with Shakespearean references, literature was mainly a springboard for the true heart of the book: the shifting relationship of the titular sisters and their parents, she says.

“I do enjoy Shakespeare,” Brown, 38, admits, “especially seeing the plays performed, but the references are workhorses more than an homage. I use the family's habit of quoting Shakespeare as a way to illuminate families' tendency to create their own languages.”

Brown says that her own family life didn’t directly inspire her characters— her fictional family is primarily allegorical.

“While pieces of the sisters' relationships come from realizations I had about my own family,” Brown explains, “I think the core of their relationship is the struggle inside me, and inside many of us: the conflict between being independent and being taken care of, between the desire for adventure and for safety, etc."

“When the sisters scrape against each other, it's in the same way we are caught between our own desires.”

Brown, who now lives in Colorado, grew up in the Washington, DC, area, and one overarching aspect of the book definitely sprang from her own life: rabid book-love.

“I grew up in a family where books and music were tremendously important,” she says, “and the most important lesson my parents taught me was never to go anywhere without something to read.”

Gradually, Brown’s avocation became her vocation. “I've always been a reader and a daydreamer,” she says, “and at some point I realized I could use those daydreams to create stories just like the ones I loved to fall into as a reader. Writing and reading have always been my way of understanding the world...”

The Weird Sisters coalesced while Brown was teaching. “I wrote the first draft over a year, during school vacations,” she says, then put it “through many, many rounds of edits.”

Her novel debuted in 2011 to widespread acclaim and bestseller status. She also notes that there is talk of a movie adaptation: “Lots of talk, but nothing firm yet.”

Though Brown’s book has been much-praised, the solidarity of her readership has been perhaps most gratifying to her.

“I wrote the book," she says, "when I was feeling confused and alone, and hearing that readers share the questions and concerns of the characters in the book makes me feel less alone.”
Eleanor Brown will appear on a panel entitled “Life Isn’t Always What it Seems” on Saturday, March 24 at noon at New Dominion Bookshop. Also on the panel are Lucy Ferriss (
The Lost Daughter), Amy Stolls (The Ninth Wife) and Jacqueline Luckett (Passing Love).

Read more on: eleanor brown

1 comment

"the shifting relationship of the titular sisters and their parents, she says'" Reminds me of an old play ....back in the Regan era?