By Patrick deWitt
I really like Western movies, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book in the genre, actually. I love to see the long shots of empty vistas and close-ups of horses, but am not quite so keen to read about them. I have a suspicion that The Sisters Brothers is not your normal Western, but I absolutely loved it!
It was the title that caught my attention, of course, and I checked it out, just to figure out how to parse it (it is two brothers with the last name Sisters). The Sisters Brothers are infamous gunslingers hired by a mob boss to track down someone who ran with his money. Along the way, they run into various misadventures, and discover that things are not exactly as they’ve been told.
It’s not for everyone, I’d say; the writing was similar to Faulkner’s, I thought, with a plainness that highlights the sort of general absurdity of life, but more plot-driven than Faulkner usually is, which is probably why it is a genre novel, not capital-L Literature. It reminded me a lot of the Fargo television show, actually: a fair amount of extreme violence, but balanced with a quirky humor and some unexpected heart.
Speaking of television shows…
Pocketful of Bones
By Julie Frayn
Pocketful of Bones is straight-up Bates Motel! Within the first chapter or two, a young prostitute accidentally gets pregnant from a john; when he discovers the baby and threatens to take the child from her, she kills him and buries him the backyard She continues to support herself and her son through sex work, which complicates the son’s adolescent sexual awakening (to put it nicely).
Per the description on the back of the book, eventually things come to a head, when the mom has to rebuff the son’s advances, and he leaves, only returning to the house (and yard) much later. The first half constantly increases the sense anxiety, as the bodies pile up, but tempers it with moments of humor and pathos. As it neared the middle, though, I was sort of gritting my teeth, trying to get past the impending incest-adjacent scene, hoping for a respite from the claustrophobia of the house and yard.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and the second half just doubles-down, with two different narratives of disturbed people with the potential to wreck havoc on everyone around them. The anxiety became unsustainable, and I found it increasingly difficult to finish. As an aside: this book is not kind to men in general; almost all victims are men, and while it is debatable whether they deserve to be killed and buried in someone’s backyard, I certainly understood why someone might be tempted to do just that.
I was reading this while in the same room as Anna so I’m going to just document our conversation:
Me: (in reference to the first line) You’ve really never read a western? Not even a Louis L’Amour?
Anna: Not even a…??? What are you talking about? Of course I haven’t read a Louis L’Amour!
Me: But there’s a gazillion of them!
Anna: Of course there’s a gazillion of them, they’re like Harlequin romance novels but most people haven’t read one. How many have /you/ read?
Me: … no more than a half dozen
Anna: Are they any good?
Me: They really are a bit like harlequin romances, but for guys. It’s a male fantasy
Anna: How are the women portrayed?
Me: As i recall there aren’t many, and they’re mostly passive inspiration for action. Some devotional love but no real romance. They ride off into the sunset in the end.
Anna: Like “Shane”. Ooo, I did read “Shane”!
I concur with all of this! (Also, I read “Shane” in fifth grade, so there’s a defense for me forgetting about it.)