The Andreas sisters are all coming home, converging on their past and escaping their present. Rose, Bean, and Cordy grew up in a small Ohio college town with a Shakespearean scholar for a father who frequently communicated through the Bard's words, verses, and couplets. Each of the girls is having trouble and have chosen to make the news that their mother is fighting breast cancer the catalyst for coming home again, not expecting their siblings to also come home. Like the witches' portion in King Lear, the novel is narrated by the sisters as one omniscient entity, a method not often seen in literature. And this unique narration works so well because even when the story is focused on one sister or another and her secrets, no one besides sisters can know each other so intimately as to unmask and lay bare the truth so thoroughly without malice.
Rose has convinced herself that she has come home from Columbus where she is a well-respected math professor, to help and organize her parents, who clearly need to be parented themselves. What she isn't acknowledging is that she is terrified to leave the comforting idea of home and venture into the wider world with her fiance, who has taken a position over in England for the year. Bean, who couldn't wait to shake the dust of the provincial town from her feet has spent years in New York but she has never found what she so desperately seeks, devouring men and shopping beyond her means to the point that she resorts to embezzlement to fund her binges. Discovered and without any other recourse, she has come home to the place she once so longed to escape. Cordy also fled Barnwell, the pampered youngest who never had to face the consequences for any of her actions, coddled and humored. She has been drifting aimlessly since she left home, afraid to be successful. Only now she's discovered that she is pregnant and she turns to the people and place that have always offered her a soft and forgiving place to land: family and home.
With all three sisters home again, they quickly revert to their expected roles in the family while resenting the others for assuming theirs. It is clear that the sisters care for each other very deeply, even when they are angry or frustrated with each other. They each keep secrets and don't want to expose their mistakes or uncertainties to each other, wanting to maintain the persona with which they have long been labeled. To expose themselves so clearly would change the dynamic between them for sure. And yet they already know each others' weaknesses and faults as well as they know their own. These characters are so real and appealing that even when they are making the wrong choices and sniping at each other, it is easy to like them. All three of the sisters learn, grow and change throughout the course of the story. And they learn the value of family love and support as they become the people they were meant to be, both within and without the confines of the family.
I loved the bookishness of the sisters. Their reliance on Shakespeare to communicate with each other was a quirky and fun family trait. The sisters were very distinct characters and even the secondary characters were unique and differentiated, contributing much to the story. The love/hate relationship Rose, Bean, and Cordy had with each other was completely true to life. No one can frustrate you faster than a sister but no one will step up to bat for you faster either. Brown managed to tell the story with wit and humor. Having gone to school in a small Ohio college town and married someone raised in yet another one, I can say with confidence that Brown has captured the aura of the place beautifully, the ambivalence and/or reverence of the faculty kids towards the local school, and the quaintness of some liberal arts faculty (dare I say especially English faculty?). I highly recommend this novel of family and books and finally growing up
Thanks to the publisher for sening me a copy of the book for review.