'Weird Sisters' Quote Shakespeare To Communicate Eleanor Brown speaks with Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen about her new novel, The Weird Sisters, which imagines the lives of three sisters and their obsessive Shakespearean scholar father who prefers iambic pentameter to normal, everyday conversation.

'Weird Sisters' Quote Shakespeare To Communicate

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If you want to brush up on your Shakespeare, there are plenty of his lines you can start to quote in a new novel. "The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown is about a family steeped in the bard. The patriarch is a Shakespeare scholar and the story revolves around his three daughters: Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia. Sound familiar?

Each sister is named after a Shakespearean character, although they go by the names Rose, age 33; Bean, age 30; and Cordy, age 27. And as the quotation on the cover of the novel says, "They love each other, they just don't happen to like each other very much."

Eleanor Brown, author of "The Weird Sisters," is in the studio of KCFR in Denver, Colorado. Welcome to the program.

Ms. ELEANOR BROWN (Author, "The Weird Sisters"): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: One of the reasons the sisters reunite in their home is because their mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. To illustrate the family dynamic, would you mind reading the scene at the dinner table - just before their mother is scheduled for surgery? It's on Page 96, and the father speaks first.

Ms. BROWN: Sure, I'd be happy to.

(Reading) I'd like to talk to you about something, our father said. In light of your mother's diagnosis, I feel it necessary to address the issue of your own health. Cordy blew bubbles into her milk. Our father took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, typically a mid-lecture sign. But in this case, he seemed to be struggling unusually hard to get the words out. He coughed.

Marry, sir, 'tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers. Therefore, he that cannot lick his fingers goes not with me, he said finally.

Um, what? Bean asked.

I think what your father means is that since breast cancer may be hereditary, it's important that you do self-exams, our mother said, patting his hand as he nodded uncomfortably.

Oh, right. We're sure that's exactly what Shakespeare was trying to say.

HANSEN: That's Eleanor Brown reading from her new novel, "The Weird Sisters."

Where is the quotation from, "Marry, sir, 'tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers?"

Ms. BROWN: You know, I haven't the faintest idea.

HANSEN: You're kidding, me. Come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: I'm not. When I started writing the book, I did lots and lots of reading and lots and lots of research. And I ended up with this enormous list of quotations that I wanted to use that I thought might be useful. And then, as I went through, I discovered that I couldn't write a scene just in order to use a specific quotation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: So I ended up madly tearing through my complete works of Shakespeare, trying to find quotations sometimes that fit things.

HANSEN: And you had to because this is a family, I said, steeped in the bard. And they really do communicate often using quotations from either his sonnets or his plays.

Ms. BROWN: They do. The father is a Shakespearean professor, and especially, he's fairly emotionally distant. So especially when things get emotionally tough, he retreats into Shakespeare and everybody else has picked that trait, too, and it becomes this sort of linguistic currency.

HANSEN: The other reason that the three sisters are back together at home is that each considers herself a failure - and they all have secrets. How close are Rose's, Bean's and Cordy's characters to their Shakespearean counterparts?

Ms. BROWN: In some ways, very much, and in some ways not at all. Rose, for instance, who's modeled off of Rosalind from "As You Like It," is really obsessed with love; the same way for Rosalind in the play. So I wanted to draw some of that in. But their secrets and their crises and their feelings of failure, all their own.

The fact that they were named after these famous Shakespearean heroines, I think contributes to their feelings of failure, because they are never going to be as glamorous and romantic, and well-spoken as the women after whom they are named. But their problems are very much their own.

HANSEN: But Bean, as Bianca - and we remind people, Bianca is the character in "Taming of the Shrew" - and she's the sister that wants to get married but she can't until her older sister does.

And Cordy is the typical baby. She's favored as Cordelia was in "King Lear."

Ms. BROWN: Right.

HANSEN: But, on the other hand, there's a downside to it. That favoritism turned into a handicap.

Ms. BROWN: Right. She's both a very devoted daughter, as Cordelia is in "King Lear," and a very favorite daughter, as you said, in "King Lear."

HANSEN: I'm speaking with Eleanor Brown, author of the new novel "The Weird Sisters."

You also explore the dynamics of birth order. Rose is first, then Bean, then Cordy. How does that affect each woman?

Ms. BROWN: It affects deeply. Each of the sisters is really tied to the role that she was given in this family; this very driven, successful, eldest; and this sort of lost, looking for an identity middle; and the youngest who is a little bit flaky and yet charming.

They are really locked into those roles and that's the way the birth order works. It gives us a lot of these wonderful personality traits but it can really lock you in and hold you back from moving forward. And so what I was looking to do was to put each of the sisters in a situation that would challenge the characteristics of her stereotypical birth order.

HANSEN: Of course, one can't talk about "The Weird Sisters" without talking about Shakespeare's Scottish play, "Macbeth." The line is, and you use it at the beginning of the book: I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters.

Is their a relationship between the three weird sisters that Shakespeare writes about and these three?

Ms. BROWN: When he talked about the weird sisters, he was really talking about the three Fates. And so the idea of destiny - again, going back to birth order - that you are you somehow committed to a certain life path because of the order you come in, in your family is where I decided to bring in the weird sisters.

So the weird sisters aren't actually that weird. But they are very much tied to the idea of destiny, and that's how they link up to the weird sisters in Macbeth.

HANSEN: In the efforts of full disclosure, I'm halfway through the book and there's a lot more to discover. But since we're talking about Shakespeare, should I expect comedy or tragedy?

Ms. BROWN: You should expect comedy. You know, I always wanted to be the kind of person who was very deep and thoughtful, and wrote tragic novels. But I wrote the kind of novel that I like to read; a novel about relationships and about family, and about people getting lost but then finding themselves again.

So I hope that you will find comedy.

HANSEN: Eleanor Brown is the author of the new novel, "The Weird Sisters." She spoke to us from the studio at KCFR in Denver, Colorado.

Thanks so much.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you for having me, Liane.

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