Jason's Reviews > The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington
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Apr 03, 2010

it was amazing
Read from April 03 to 11, 2010

First Impressions:
My initial response to the first 30 pages or so of this book was to NOT LIKE IT AT ALL.
I began to think I was reading a medieval version of 'Natural Born Killers', a film that I loathed more than I feel motivated to elaborate upon.
This was an extremely disappointing realization, as I was looking forward to reading this book with enormous anticipation.
It all came about when I saw a copy of it in Barnes & Noble a few months back and was very intrigued by the jacket design, but I declined to purchase it in favor of Verghese's 'Cutting for Stone' (a decision I certainly cannot regret in any way). Yesterday I was nosing about in Border's looking for something in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, and again I happened upon this text.
I've got this weird kismetian thing going with certain books so that sometimes I feel like they're calling to me or that I'm somehow meant to pick them up and read them. The last time it happened was with Cherie Priest's 'Boneshaker'. The time before was David Peace's 'Tokyo Year Zero'.
So anyway, randomly seeing this book on the shelf in front of me a second time convinced me that I needed to buy it and read it.
Lying in bed last night, reading through the opening sequence caused me to SERIOUSLY RE-EVALUATE the effective properties of my kismetian response.
I very nearly took the book over to my waste can and discarded it. The only thing that kept me from doing so was the fact that I spent ten bucks on it only a few hours before, and I just couldn't give up on it that easily.
So I'm going to trudge forward in the hope that it becomes a text that is more to my liking.

Second Impressions:
Here's what I'd like to make clear about what bothers me in this text.
I am not against the depiction of violence in storytelling. I was a fan of Robert E. Howard's 'Conan' long before my first shave.
Granted the form of violence that occurs in the 'Conan' tales is very much disconnected from reality, and doesn't really touch the reader on a personal level. So I should also make clear I'm not opposed to the depiction of violence in a more realistic vein, such as the kind that occurs in modern warfare, or through various forms of criminal activity.
Crimes against the innocent in this latter category are most difficult to face, i.e. acts of violence against children or the elderly.
But again, even in this last category I'm not opposed to its being depicted in a narrative format. I am prepared to confront these actions in literature as they certainly do occur, with alarming frequency, in our society.
I don't mind confronting it, I just DO NOT want to bathe in it.
This is what I found utterly repellent about the film 'Natural Born Killers', and what I found very hard to take about the opening sequence of this book.
When the narrative lens focuses for too long and in too much detail on the pain and suffering of the innocent the narrative becomes less a document that explores the gravity of the event and becomes more a source of barbarous entertainment.
I do not wish to be a party to such entertainment, and I don't wish to know anyone who does.
So I have concerns about this text which I will continue to work out in my next entry.

Third Impressions:
Now that I'm approximately 200 pages in I'm struck with the sharp incongruity that has developed between the brothers Grossbart that took eager part in killing children and burning them alive in the opening pages of the book and the brothers Grossbart that occupy the ensuing pages.
It's as if those initial Grosbarts were two completely different characters, they differ so much from the latter brothers, who are keen on discussing philosophic theology, honoring the Virgin Mary, and cracking wise with one another.
So stark is the contrast between the two sets of brothers that it convinces me it must be a major component of the author's overarching design for the story, and thus I wonder what Bullington is up to.
I'm intrigued by the author's decision to build the characters and the story on the foundation of an atrocity. He deliberately sets the reader against the brothers right from the start, and then immediately sets about re-establishing sympathy for them in seemingly direct opposition to his original intentions.
It remains to be seen why he would do this. Perhaps it's merely just to see if he could pull it off.

I must also mention how much I'm enjoying the adult "fairy tale" aspects of the story. The folkloric elements combined with the Brothers Grimm evocations creates a colorful and dense ambience that's both wondrous and deeply sinister at the same time. I find myself totally engrossed in each encounter the brothers have.
If Bullington is able to reasonably justify that opening sequence he may win me over completely.

Fourth Impressions:
If anything at all can be said about this book, it is that Bullington can write unbelievably incisive and riveting dialogue. I find myself reading many sequences over and over, imagining the expressions on the speaker's faces, their mannerisms, their inflections.
I could easily see this book translate into a screenplay of the Guy Ritchie, Tarantino, or Kevin Smith variety.
I can't help but see Jason Statham as Manfreid, and Stephen Graham as Hegel.

Final Thoughts:
As I was nearing the end I was vacillating somewhat between giving this book 4 or 5 stars. The passage that proved to be the tip-in was:

"You laughin at me, you hag-touching degenerate?"

I enjoyed the hell out of this book and, in the end, isn't that really what it's all about?
I'm not sure Bullington was able to justify the opening sequence as much as I hoped he would, but, as the very satisfying ending reveals, he certainly didn't let the Brothers get away with their crimes.
This is a "sad tale" after all.
It is truly an unforgettable book, with a character all its own. I probably won't be recommending it to many people, for reasons obvious to anyone who reads a random passage or two, but I sure wish I could.
I will most certainly be busily scanning the literary horizon for future signs of Bullington activity, Grossbartian or otherwise.
And unlike Hegel's witch's sight, I'm very glad to know my kismetian response did not let me down.
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04/04/2010 page 75
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Christian Wonderful Review that exactly mirrors my feelings while reading this book!


Dylan Lockwood I actually had a hard time separating my image of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon from Dogma in a Kevin smith flick of this one.
It was so good.


Dylan Lockwood I actually had a hard time separating my image of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon from Dogma in a Kevin smith flick of this one.
It was so good.


Jason That would work. This has Kevin Smith all over it. He seems to have soured on filmmaking for the moment. Too bad.


Dylan Lockwood If only tusk was good :/ I know it was supposed to be like a anti-horror black comedy kind of thing, but I think it just missed its mark and fell a little too closely to b-movie. I love Kevin and his work, but that one was definitely not his best work. If he got his hands on this book, I think he'd fucking kill it.


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