Penguin Twitter Book Club Parts IV and V: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Tonight marked the final Penguin Twitter Book Club discussion of The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. I’ve loved discussing this book with the author and my fellow tweeters and am kind of sad for it to come to an end, although I know the great discussion will continue with our next read, the incredible A Discovery of Witches.

Again, a quick synopsis from Penguin:

Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can’t solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard’s heroines. It’s a lot to live up to.

The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents’ frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them…

Previous recaps are available here

HIGHWAY TO THE SPOILER ZONE!

Yeah, I just did that.

  • Turning points: Last week’s discussion was all about turning points. Rose goes to visit Jonathan in Oxford, and while she’s there, her mother has a blood clot that lands her in the hospital. Bean and Cordy initially react like chickens without heads, crying that they don’t know what to do without Rose, but they manage to pull it together and get Mom safely to the hospital. When Rose hears this, she has a crisis of sorts that she overcomes by making herself feel invincible; she climbs a high tower and then spontaneously joins a group doing Tai Chi. Meanwhile, Bean learns that her father asked Father Aiden to check up on her and that he had no romantic interest in her. This really caused her to hit rock bottom. Eleanor revealed two interesting editorial tidbits about Bean here: first, she originally dropped the f-bomb during the hospital scene, but it ended up being cut, and second, a scene got cut where Bean overtly came on to Father Aiden. Readers were surprised the f-bomb got cut because it’s very in character for Bean and indicates how panicked she was in the moment, but in agreement about the scene with Father Aiden, because we already know Bean’s her own worst enemy and it would have tainted any sympathy we had for her.
  • Change: Penguin asked a question that got everyone talking: “We have to wonder–does it take disaster to force change?” The answer was a resounding yes, especially in the case of these girls, who are so dead set in their ways.
  • Still talking about Dad: Dad surprised all of us again last week when we learned that he’d asked Father Aiden to look after Bean. It proved, once again, that there’s more to Dad than Shakespeare. “People talk about the parents being too hands-off, but that’s proof that they’re not.” Eleanor explained. Some readers also spoke about the challenge of parenting adult children, especially when there’s a family crisis, and how the parent wants to continue to advise their adult children while allowing them to make their own mistakes. Because, as Eleanor rightly pointed out, “Does anyone listen to good advice until they’re good and ready?”
  • Pot smoking, and other reckless moments with the Andreas sisters: A reader asked about the scene where Rose decides to smoke pot with Bean and why Eleanor felt it was needed for the sisters to get closer. She said that she did it so that Rose’s defenses would be down and so that Cordy would come off as responsible for abstaining. A lot of readers enjoyed it because it helped them picture the girls as teens, and because it was nice to see Rose unwind. Eleanor also said she wanted them to do something a little dangerous together, which led to a discussion of the scene where the very young Andreas girls decide to take the car for a spin, and Bean ends up hitting a deer. We agreed that all siblings do something like that when the parents are away, although not that naughty. Kind of like the time my younger sister and I flooded the master bathroom while my mother was in the hospital giving birth…
  • Other fun tidbits: Again, the wonderful thing about having the author handy is the behind-the-scenes insight. Eleanor told us that she deliberately planned the sisters’ births to coincide with Saturn’s return (read more about that at The Debutante Ball) and that she based Dan’s coffee shop on Dunn Bros. coffee in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • Bean’s confession: The final discussion began with Bean’s confession to Father Aiden. Everyone was so relieved when the moment finally occurred, because Bean was holding so much, and it needed to come out. A lot of us felt it was the true denouement of the novel. When asked if Bean was not contrite enough, a lot of us responded that it would be out of character for her to be too contrite. Fun tidbits from Eleanor: Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand made some suggestions for the scene, even though she and Eleanor never met, and Eleanor cried while writing the scene because “Bean represents the way we get in our own way, her seeking forgiveness is like forgiving yourself.”
  • More about narration: We returned to the first person plural narration for a moment, and Eleanor brought up an interesting point. “1st person plural just seemed so right for a family story. It’s how we talk about our memories: ‘When we were little, we went to Disneyland.'” Another reader also pointed out that it shows how linked the sisters are, even though they’re not close.
  • Following Mom: I brought up how much I loved the scene where Cordy and Mom bake together, and Eleanor said that someone pointed out that Cordy is following in Mom’s footsteps, while Bean and Rose follow in Dad’s. Penguin said that they thought Rose was following more in Mom’s footsteps, and we agreed that she could be a different version of Mom from another era.
  • Who has come the furthest: Eleanor asked us to rank the sisters in order of who has come the furthest. The responses were pretty varied, but everyone agreed that Bean still has a ways to go and that she should be single for a while.
  • Ariel: Penguin asked how we felt about Cordy naming her daughter Ariel. Eleanor explained that she chose the name because it had the least amount of baggage, which is true, as Ariel is an airy spirit who isn’t attached to parents or lovers. The character’s free spirited nature is also very like Cordy. Eleanor asked us whether we were surprised that Cordy had a girl, because people have been asking her about that recently. I admitted that I was a little surprised–with all the girls, I was sure the first would be a boy, but it makes sense for there to be another girl to, as Eleanor said, “continue the sisterhood.”
  • More Shakespeare: Newcomers to the chat asked how Eleanor chose her Shakespeare quotes, and she revealed that she relied on concordances to help round out her list of quotes. A reader said how much she loved how the Andreases used Shakespeare in their vernacular, which led to others confessing what quotes make it into regular family conversation, from Broadway musicals to Firefly. We also talked about various Shakespeare adaptations we’ve seen, both good and bad (Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, anyone?).
  • The ending: Eleanor asked us how we felt about the ending: was it too happy, too sad, or just right. Most people thought it was just right and that it was good to know that everyone was going to be all right. Eleanor called the ending “hopeful,” which is a great word for it. Fun tidbit: editor extraordinaire Amy Einhorn felt the original ending was too neat and made Eleanor unravel a few things to make it more realistic.
  • The process, and the future: Lots of questions about the process of writing, editing, and publishing The Weird Sisters and what was next. About the process, Eleanor answered: “1 year write, 1 year edit, 2 years editing w/ agent, 2 years pub prep. Rounded out to 7 yrs total.” She admitted the process was longer than what’s typical, but slow and steady worked in this case. As for what she’s working on, Eleanor said she’s discarded three ideas since she wrote The Weird Sisters but is currently working on a novel set in a small town during a summer where all the characters get what they want. Hopefully this draft won’t meet the same fate as the others.

Infinite thanks to Penguin and Eleanor for an incredible first book club! The first discussion for A Discovery of Witches is set for March 12. I may or may not recap, but you can always follow the chat at hashtag #readpenguin.

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