Where does grief end and madness begin? What is the boundary between reality and fiction? How much are our creations a part of us? Can we face our dee...moreWhere does grief end and madness begin? What is the boundary between reality and fiction? How much are our creations a part of us? Can we face our deepest pain and fear before they devour us? The narrator/protagonist of Houdini Heart must face all of these conundrums and more as she explores both the innermost recesses of her own psyche as well as the many potential shades of meaning behind the word “haunting.”
If you would like to read my full review of Houdini Heart, please visit my blog, Read the Gamut.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting a straight-forward Western tale, maybe with a bit of humor, perhap...moreThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting a straight-forward Western tale, maybe with a bit of humor, perhaps updated a bit for a modern palate. I don’t “do” Westerns, as a general rule. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a tale of depth, wit, and humanity shot through with an intriguing plot full of twists and characters refreshingly nuanced and believable.
The titular Sisters Brothers, Eli and Charlie, are killers for hire. They get the job done, and they love and feud as only true kin can. Their fraternal loyalty is fierce, and their bickering fiercer. Charlie loves his job, relishes every unsavory bit, and has big plans for an upwardly-mobile future within his organization. Eli has a (charming and surprisingly naïve) romantic streak, as well as a thoughtful and nagging conscience. Every step of the way, Eli wrestles internally with himself and his choices, and externally with his brother’s choices, and they both must fight to survive in an unforgiving and uninviting world.
The plot was rollicking and full of adventure, and the reading was brisk. I never found myself disinterested or wishing the author would hurry things along. As adventure tales go, I felt this one was practically perfect. Furthermore, deWitt injects his narrative with just the right amount of humor, both slapstick and sly, sophisticated and crude. But where the story truly shines, what raises it to something greater than a simple Western yarn is the subtle development of character, especially regarding Eli Sisters. Here is a man, a scoundrel and deeply flawed, but with a rich reserve of warmth and sentimentality. Eli is introspective and mulling, almost comically so considering the setting and his occupation, and he harbors guilt, regret, longing for love, longing for home, nostalgia, and even compassion far beyond the bounds one might expect. As a contract killer, Eli wears a metaphorical black hat, but deep down he’s one of the good guys.
The Sisters Brothers was a delightful picaresque, following the trials and triumphs of two colorful and believable anti-heroes as they carve a name for themselves in the hard-baked soil of Gold Rush-era California. It’s a buddy caper, a road story, a psychological study, a banter-rich comedy, a morality play, a satire, and a thrilling adventure all rolled into one. I highly recommend it. (less)