Day 1147: The Light of Paris

Cover for The Light of ParisEleanor Brown’s first novel, The Weird Sisters, was just original enough to keep it interesting. Sadly, The Light of Paris is all too predictable.

Madeleine has never felt comfortable in her privileged life of debutantes and charity committees. When she was in high school, all she wanted to do was paint, but her mother considered her painting trivial. She finally married Phillip to please her mother and lives in a cold, sterile Chicago condo with a husband who insists on having everything his way.

Madeleine decides to take a break from Phillip, so she goes to visit her disapproving mother in Magnolia, her home town. She finds her mother preparing to sell the house. In helping her, Madeleine discovers her grandmother Margie’s diaries from her youth.

Margie is a naive, romantic young woman who is also a failed debutante in 1924. Her family considers her an old maid, and when she refuses the unromantic proposal of her father’s middle-aged business partner, they send her off to Paris to chaperone a difficult acquaintance, Evelyn. Evelyn almost immediately abandons her to go off on her own, but after some hesitation, Margie decides to get a job and stay in Paris.

While reading her grandmother’s story, Madeleine begins to work through her own issues, all the while wondering how the Margie from her diary became the distant woman she remembers.

Madeleine’s family secrets are fairly guessable, as is the resolution to the novel. That didn’t bother me so much as some other issues. A small point, perhaps, but in those days no one would have sent a 23-year-old unmarried girl to chaperone an 18-year-old. If Margie was 40, maybe.

A larger issue is my utter lack of sympathy with Madeleine’s problems. Many people seek the approval of their parents, but to think that Madeleine could see no alternative but her Junior League upbringing and marriage to Phillip is ridiculous in this day. I’m sure there are a few women in pearls and twinsets still around, but Brown has set this portion of the novel in the 1990’s, not the 1950’s. I had no patience with this heroine. She needed to grow a backbone when she was 16, not when she was in her 30’s.

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Day 172: The Weird Sisters

Cover for The Weird SistersRose, Bianca, and Cordelia Andreas are the daughters of a Shakespeare scholar who is obsessed with the Bard. From their earliest days they were taught to quote from Shakespeare plays, enact scenes, and use Elizabethan curses. Of course, they are named for characters from the plays. Their father’s way of communicating with them when they are away is to send them clippings from the Riverside Shakespeare. This is the setup for The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. You might think such a gimmick would become tiresome, but it does not.

The three sisters have traits in common with their characters. Rose, like Rosalind, is smart and dutiful. Bianca is a flirtacious beauty. Cordelia is the much-loved youngest daughter. They are also a bit estranged from each other. Rose resents that she always has to be the responsible one, but Bean and Cordy think she takes too much upon herself. Both Rose and Bean are jealous of the unconditional love that Cordy receives from their parents. And Rose and Cordy think Bean has too great a need for attention, one that leads her to seduce men indiscriminantly.

When they receive a summons from their father because their mother has cancer (it says “Come, let us go; and pray to all the gods/For our beloved mother in her pains”), the lives of all the women are in disarray. Rose’s fiancé is about to leave for a  job in England, and he wants her to join him. She believes she is too urgently needed at home, where she is the organizer. Bean (Bianca) has been fired from her job in New York for embezzling the money she needs to perpetuate her lifestyle. Cordy has been living from man to man like a vagabond when she finds she is pregnant.

They all return to their crazy, poorly run childhood home, where piles of books are everywhere and all members of the family are perpetually reading but not, perhaps, cleaning. Slowly, the small town in Ohio that Cordy and Bean have been running away from begins to seem not so bad.

The Weird Sisters is an amusing, touching novel about how each of the women finds her path and reconciles with her sisters. It is extremely well written, and oddly enough, you do not tire of its devices.