Patrick de Witt. The Sisters Brothers. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc, 2011.
Absolutely nothing quite like it. Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, de Witt's tale takes place during the early California Gold Rush. Two brothers pursue a career they stumbled into, two barely articulate, rough men acting together in a rough world. Yet their antithetical personalities are evident almost at once in the sparest of dialogue and often strangely touching prose coming from Eli's first person narrative. Some humourous scenes offset others of grim carnage.
This bickering might have continued but I left my brother and retired to my room in the hotel across from the saloon. I do not like to argue and especially not with Charlie, who can be uncommonly cruel with his tongue. Later that night I could hear him exchanging words in the road with a group of men, and I listened to make sure he was not in danger, and he was not--the men asked him his name and he told them and they left him alone. But I would have come to his aid and in fact was putting on my boots when the group scattered. I heard Charlie coming up the stairs and jumped into bed, pretending I was fast asleep. He stuck his head in the room and said my name but I did not answer. He closed the door and moved to his room and I lay in the dark thinking about the difficulties of family, how crazy and crooked the stories of a bloodline can be.
On acquiring another man's horse:
Stepping into the road to meet Tub [the horse], I greeted him and asked how he was feeling. He appeared more alert than the day previous, though his eye was so much the worse, and I found myself sympathetic to the animal. He was resilient, if nothing else. I moved to stroke him but when my hand landed on his face he started, and I experienced shame at this, that he was so unused to a gentle touch. I decided to try to show him a better time, and made a private promise to this effect.
Jo Nesbo. Headhunters. 2008. North American release by Vintage, 2011.
Walked over a mile (local library branch renovations) to pick up Nesbo's latest-translated thriller, almost salivating by the time I reached home. Worth every anticipatory moment. It's not Harry Hole, it's a guy you instantly dislike until you meet a really despicable guy. The first guy then gets into trouble, compelling sympathy; he does have a pure love for his art-gallery-owner wife. Who will win the overt contest, the hidden agenda, and the fair lady? Plenty of mayhem with a memorable, hilarious scene involving a rural outhouse--that's all I can say about that. It's a rare “crime author” who can seamlessly lace threads of humour into complex mystery patterns and psychopathic behaviour. I hear Nesbo's Detective Harry Hole is back this year in Phantom (2012); keep the translations coming!
James Meek. The People's Act of Love. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2005.
Maybe crime-novel guru Margaret Cannon was tripping on acid the day she loved this. How else to understand the mire of post-Revolution rhetoric from a sly killer, a crazed eunuch, and a marooned Czech soldier? There is a mystery—making you want to google some subjects—but it's obscured for some time in the back stories. Mystery is revealed about half way through (if you didn't already suspect) and we are left to ponder whether the characters deserve their almost-predictable fates. Siberia never looked so unappealing. Good luck if you go for it. Send me a note.