Recap: The Sweeney sisters are known around Southport, not solely for their seemingly sweet sisterly bond or their beautiful red hair. But as is too often the case in towns based on tradition, they are known for their relation to a man: their father, the great author William Sweeney.
So when William Sweeney dies, and the country, celebrities, literary enthusiasts and the entirely of Southport mourn his loss, the women must come together with a force similar to that of their father’s prose to a) organize his funeral and celebration of life b) go through his things, sell his house and divide the earnings he left behind and c) find the memoir he wrote that he only wanted published after he died.
What they didn’t anticipate adding to that To Do List was d) forming a relationship with the sister they never knew they had, the lovechild their father had with the next door neighbor while he was still married to their mother.
The Sweeney Sisters follows put-together Liza, mad Maggie, tackle-it-all Tricia as they spend the summer coming to terms with their father’s loss by befriending Serena, their next-door-neighbor turned sister. Serena is a journalist, and they worry she may be seeking out salacious details to write a scandalous, bestselling memoir and tarnish their father’s name. It’s unclear if they can trust this new sister and if they ever really knew their father.
Analysis: Summer setting, check. Romantic sex scenes near water, check. Catty women, check. The Sweeney Sisters has all the trappings of a fun summer beach read (which frankly the world could use right now). And yet, it’s fair to say this fun novel goes a little beyond that. Sure, the ending is wrapped up with a perfect, beautiful bow, maybe a little too perfect. And sure, some of the plots were tropes I’ve read in other books.
But the relationships between the sisters feels real. These are women who are very clearly outlined, who are so different and yet so the same, who really know each other and understand why they are the way they are. Adding a fourth sister to the mix could have been done in a generic way (i.e. all the sisters hate her and then learn to love her or all the sisters love her and then realize she’s evil). Instead, it’s a slow burn and each sister has a unique, individual relationship with the new sister, making it less predictable as to how things would all wind up.
Each sister also has her own problems, aside from the death of their father and the entrance of Serena: Liza with her divorce, Maggie without a job or real inspiration for her path in life and Tricia with her difficultly in connecting with others. Between the three of them (four, if you include Serena!), there is some quality for any woman to relate to: loss, failure, fear. It’s book about women coming together to stand on their own without needing a man to help them, and that is something to be revered.
MVP: Maggie. Her ultimate ending is a little too picture perfect for me, but she is so messy and dramatic and fractured, so wild and free and fun. Her journey in the book, connecting with her late mother through art, is one of true awakening in a way that feels authentically sad and beautiful.