Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Patrick DeWitt: The Sisters Brothers

Catchy title, ain't it? I'm in a minority here, but the title is probably the best thing in the book that's been celebrated everywhere it's been published, including Finland. (Patrick DeWitt also came here to promote the translation. I was away travelling, otherwise I would've made an interview with him.)

Okay, I'll take some of that back. The Sisters Brothers is a book filled with lots of funny stuff, some of it absurd, some of it downright scary or nasty, some of it so disjointed it doesn't have much to do with the rest of the book. There's something demanding respect in the way DeWitt writes a western novel without any of the usual western themes. There's no juxtaposition of Wilderness and Civilization, there's no Shane character trying to decide into which world he belongs, there are no cattle drives, there are no lone cowboys, etc., etc.

The book is filled with intentional anachronisms, such as a hired killer demanding a low-carb dish, since he wants to lose weight. Almost none of these felt funny to me, only clever and not very clever at that. The forced cleverness was the most annoying thing in the book to me. The irony felt too obvious and too overworked. I thought this might be called "The Hipsters Brothers", since this is clearly directed to urban 25-30-year-olds who dwell in irony. Which is of course okay with me, if there are new western readers this way. But this wasn't for me, though I somewhat respect the gesture.

And I totally understand this is an old fart speaking here, but there are better ironic western novels out there, such as Charles Portis's True Grit. I'd also call forth Charles Locke's The Hell-Bent Kid. I admit I'm not particularly well-read in the revisionist anti-western western here, but some of the most-mentioned include Roy Chanslor's The Ballad of Cat Ballou, Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, Thomas Berger's Little Big Man and E. L. Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times (made into a movie).

I don't see a line leading from them to DeWitt's novel. I don't honestly know what that means.

1 comment:

charmaine smith said...

This is the book from the awards list I picked out to read, mainly because it was a western! Now I just need to get it and read it. I really liked True Grit too :)

Charmaine Smith (More about - Maui Wedding Planner Deanne Nakamura)