BlogHer Talks to Eleanor Brown
We caught up with Eleanor Brown, author of BlogHer Book Club pick The Weird Sisters right before she left on her month-long book tour.
BlogHer: The parents in this book never seem to question why their three grown children are living with them for an indeterminate amount of time. Even with a sick family member, it seems like something that would come up more often. Why is this not discussed more?
Eleanor Brown: Parents seem to have a sixth sense about their children. Though I would have fought the idea tooth and nail when I was a teenager, no one knows me better than my parents do, and they can tell when something is wrong. For the Andreas sisters, it’s the same thing. Their parents know that something is going on with each of them, but one of the things I have learned in life is that it’s of no use trying to make someone face anything until they’re ready, and I think the parents in The Weird Sisters know that as well. They assume the sisters will confess their reasons for coming home in due time, and that will be the sign that they are ready to face those problems.
It also bears mentioning that one of the major themes I wanted to get at in the novel was the ways in which families communicate, and the Andreas family are not great communicators. While quoting Shakespeare is an excellent party trick, it’s less effective as a way to foster any genuine emotional connection. So I imagine a little bit piece of the answer as to why they don’t discuss the sisters’ return home is because they aren’t very good at discussing anything, really.
BlogHer: Did you have trouble balancing the storylines of the three sisters? Did you want to give one of the more airtime than the others?
Eleanor Brown: I made a very conscious effort to balance the stories of the sisters, alternating among them as I wrote, even going so far as to count the number of scenes each sister had when I was revising. Because each of the sisters represents questions I was wrestling with personally as I wrote the book, they all were equally important to me, so I wasn’t consciously tempted to tip the scales in anyone’s favor.
I do occasionally get questions from readers about why one particular sister (typically their least favorite) got so much more attention than another, and they’re often quite adamant about that, even when I tell them the sisters, mathematically speaking, all get equal time. I think it’s sibling rivalry!
BlogHer: Your point of view was certainly interesting – the narrator seemed to be a collective consciousness of the sisters and then the story wasn’t really close third with any of them. Can you tell us how you got the idea for that point of view and what the response was initially from agents and editors, since it is so unusual?
BlogHer: As a reader and a writer, I’m always interested in the narration and point of view of a story. I was thinking through the different voices we use for storytelling and wondered why no one had ever used the “we” voice to tell a story (and was heartbroken to find out that William Faulkner had beaten me to the punch). When I began writing The Weird Sisters, the first-person plural narrator was a natural fit with some of the ideas I wanted to get across: the way our families influence our identities, the collective memory of close relationships, and as I mentioned before, how families communicate.
I did have some agents and editors who thought it was too “out there” (by the time I was submitting the book, Jeffrey Eugenides had used the technique in The Virgin Suicides, to great success, but my book is quite different). I even had one agent tell me she would represent it if I rewrote it into third person. But it was such an integral part of the story I was trying to tell that I felt it would have been a mistake to change it, so I just took that as a sign that she wasn’t the right agent for me.
BlogHer: When I am stressed out, I find a book is better at distracting me than television or movies. Do you, like the sisters, believe a library card can fix anything?
Eleanor Brown: You know, I really do! Whenever I’m confronted with something new in my life – good or bad – I find myself heading to the library to research it. Sometimes that means flipping through pure nonfiction, sometimes it means finding a memoir or a novel about whatever I’m going through (or, in really dark times, a memoir or a novel that has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m going through – I’m all for distraction, too!). I write and I read for the same reasons – to understand and connect, and I’m grateful to all the writers who have recorded stories that help me understand my own journey or help me understand others’.
That is not to say that I don’t like movies or television or music or theater; I’m a fan of storytelling in all its forms. But I find books give me more space to spread out in my mind – by their definition, performing arts do a lot of the work for us, and I love the way a book gives me the room to wonder and explore and create my own experience.
BlogHer: Which of the three sisters do you think had the most personal growth by the end of the novel, changed the most?
Eleanor Brown: Wow, that’s a tough question. I think Bean, the middle sister, is the least far along – she’s hit rock bottom, for sure, but she’s only just beginning to climb her way back up. And then Cordy, who has some pretty important moments where she stands on her own as an adult. But probably, I think Rose has grown the most. That’s ironic, because she had the least to do, but change is not in her nature, so even those small steps felt seismic to her.
Join us to discuss The Weird Sisters in BlogHer Book Club!