I finally got around to reading Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers – a weirdo-Western Booker Prize shortlister from 2011. Eli and Charlie Sisters are professional killers roaming 1850’s Oregon territory and Northern California in the employ of the mysterious Commodore. Charlie loves murdering, while cerebral Eli – the younger of the two & our narrator – is starting to question their motives and is considering hanging up the six-shooters for good. One last job – always a harbinger of doom – sends them to track down the wily, wonderfully-named Hermann Kermit Warm in Gold Rush country in the mountains northeast of San Francisco. When they learn that Warm may have invented something that could change the financial course of all their lives, the usual end is not so clearly marked anymore. DeWitt really works back and forth between a black, black humor and the dawning realization of the sad life these brothers are actually living. They may be the most feared men in the West, but if they don’t have anyone who loves them in the end, what are they, really? Ah, but they always have each other…. The Booker committee described this as “the kind of western the Coen Brothers might write – stark, unsettling and with a keen eye for the perversity of human motivation.”
Young God by Katherine Faw Morris… holy shit. Often we describe gritty novels about drugs and violence as “a punch in the gut” or “raw” or “harrowing” or “depraved” even, but I’m not sure any of that even comes close to describing this monstrous, visceral debut. Katherine Faw Morris – who, despite her byline of living with “two pit bulls,” seems to be a little pixie of an author, based on her jacket photo – has penned one of the most shocking and brash debuts I have seen in a long, long while. Nikki is a 13-year-old young lady from backwoods North Carolina who finds herself rather nonplussed when her mother dies falling off a rocky outcrop one fine summer afternoon. See, Nikki has been unwanted and discarded for all of her time on the planet – which has made her callous, bold, and relatively fearless. She seeks out her wayward, drug-dealing father, Coy Hawkins, and shacks up with him – quickly learning how to smoke heroin, how to identify a hooker, how to cut a drug deal, how to scare off a rival pimp, how to snort ecstasy, how to remove a corpse’s teeth, and how to inject heroin. Remember, Nikki is thirteen. Morris imparts all of this with an insane staccato pace that leaves you both breathless and feeling filthy from head to toe. I read this pretty much in one frantic go – it’s one of those books that is absolutely impossible to tear your eyes away from, no matter how much you desperately might want to. The writing – my God, it just blazes across the page with an unparalleled frenzy. The terrible world that this Nikki lives in is just awful – yet she embraces her existence in this muck with both hands & with a wide-eyed enthusiasm that is completely terrifying. Definitely NOT for everyone, but necessary reading for fans of Frank Bill, John Brandon, early Denis Johnson & the like.
Fun Fact: Morris recently wrote a piece for the Paris Review on Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. Uhhhh-wha?
And The Painter by Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars…. Need I say more? Jim Stegner is struggling to get his life back on track after a series of unfortunate circumstances – the death of his daughter, a prison term, divorce. A successful painter, he spends his days in his Colorado studio and evenings fly fishing the Sulphur River. One day while heading to his fishing spot, he witnesses a man brutally beating a small horse – Jim, blind with rage, steps in & socks the guy on the nose. I haven’t quite gotten to this point yet, but I know that Jim stews over this encounter to the point where he finds the guy a few nights later and kills him. Then he has to deal with that. I’m 75 pages deep at the moment & sucking up every word like it was my last.
I watched the heat lightning and small fleets of clouds sail over the mountain ridge, lit from underneath, pale hulls and dark in the rigging. The lightning shimmered and boomed without sound, a far off battle. Heat lightning is a funny name. I guess because it comes this time of year, in the heaviest, sultry nights. But the glimmers seemed cold, part of the same cold distance as planets and stars.
On sale May 9, 2014. Sorry.