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sistersbrothersIt’s like… the Coen Brothers do Huckleberry Finn, or “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. The formality of the speech, the strange characters, the graphic violence, and the humor in the midst of some surprisingly touching moments, all reminded me of watching “True Grit” or “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” But The Sisters Brothers is original, engrossing, and moving enough to transcend pastiche, and I ripped through its roughly 300 pages in less than a day, laughing my ass off and trying not to read all the best parts aloud to my husband, whom I convinced to read it after me (and who also finished it in a day). The book is narrated by Eli, the younger Sisters brother, who followed his brother Charlie into a life as a hired killer. Eli is more sensitive and less sure of himself than Charlie, but no less an efficient killer for all that. On a job for “The Commodore,” Eli and Charlie begin a hunt for Herman Kermit Warm, encountering along the way a creepy old woman, a creepy young girl, a red-haired bear, a whole lot of prostitutes, a weeping man, a lost boy, and various killers even more morally ambiguous than themselves. They do eventually find Herman Kermit Warm, at which point the plot firms up and becomes less episodic. The events in this last quarter of the book play out rather briefly, but are still satisfying. There are some quietly lovely turns of phrase and enough enigmatic instances to give me the inkling that I could analyze for a symbolic narrative more closely if I chose to– but for right now, I don’t choose to. For now, I’m content simply to have enjoyed consuming it with the unctuous ease of a guilty pleasure, but absolutely without guilt. The book is smart enough to be funny to smart people, and if you’re a smart person, you know how rare that is.

GoodHouseThe Kindle free sample feature is going to be the death of me. I download the first chapters of books, hoping that doing so will help me rule out books to read, and instead it just compels me to buy the damn book so I can keep reading it. At least The Good House made me feel I got my money’s worth. The narrator is Hildy Good, a real-estate agent in her 60s who lives in the same Massachusetts town where she grew up. A few years back, her adult daughters and other family members staged an intervention, after which she went into rehab and stopped drinking. Since then, she’s constructed a neat little narrative for herself in which she was a loving and certainly never absent or drunk mother, a successful businesswoman, and a popular woman with many friends. But when she sells a house to and then becomes friends with newcomer Rebecca, who is young, beautiful, and charismatic, Hildy begins to realize that she doesn’t have as many real friends as she thought. She becomes enamored of Rebecca, and begins drinking again– after all, in Hildy’s opinion, she’s not really an alcoholic anyway, so where’s the harm? The book is entertaining from the start, since Ann Leary, through Hildy, writes to us in an eminently distinct and believable voice. To my great delight, the book takes on a dark and suspenseful tone halfway through, when Hildy begins to have blackouts from drinking, and Rebecca stops seeming like the idyll of perfection Hildy originally thought she was. We are now forced to question Hildy’s perspective as she begins to contradict things she’s said earlier in the book, evinces ever-stronger denial about her drinking, and casually lets slip information about herself that, you know, maybe she could have told us sooner, but didn’t. This was another book I finished in a day. It’s easy to read but never pandering, exciting but never sensational, and really excellent in its portrayal of addiction and the human capacity for self-deception.

jessie lambThis was a YA/Sci Fi read, another first-person narrative, this time told from the perspective of 16-year-old Jessie Lamb. In Jessie’s version of our world, terrorists have unleashed a supervirus that has infected every person on earth. It lies dormant until a woman becomes pregnant, at which point it rapidly destroys her brain and kills her. While scientists struggle to find a way to keep making children, Jessie struggles to find the line where her childhood ends and her adulthood begins. She writes to us from a bedroom in which she has been imprisoned by her father, who, it is implied, is trying desperately to keep her from doing something rash– but we don’t know what just yet. The book takes the idea of women not being able to have babies and spins off into several interesting directions, none of which it explores quite fully– but I was okay with this. The fact that it doesn’t come to more solid conclusions limits the book, but there is a power in simply giving a reader a starting point for contemplation, and the book does that. I appreciated it as good sci-fi in that respect. I also found it to be good YA in its honest and agenda-free depiction of Jessie’s sexuality and romantic feelings for her friend Baz. (Oh my word, a teenage girl having sex! And enjoying it! And owning her decisions! And not being punished for liking sex! The horror.) Those of us who remember being teens will recognize Jessie’s headstrong idealism, so free from the doubts and subtleties that cloud adult minds. It’s far from the best I’ve read of either genre, but it made for a thoughtful day of reading that I can see many fans of this kind of book appreciating.

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One thought on “Three Days of One-Day Books: The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt; The Good House, by Ann Leary; The Testament of Jesse Lamb, by Jane Rogers

  1. Pingback: 2013 Books in Review | Effusions of Wit and Humour

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