Well, not the biggest surprise in the world... I am back to a book that is part of the Tournament of Books. While I had originally thought having read 10 of the 16 books before the competition got underway, there always seems to be a book (or two) that piques my interest along the way... and Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers was one of them...
...when it scored an opening round upset over one of the #1 seeds, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. While that wasn't a huge surprise to me (I had my issues with SoW -- and Patchett in general -- back in July), many (most?) ToB books have both ardent supporters and detractors, but this one had a notable shift of the former.
Now, even despite living in the now suburbanized wild wild west sprawl of Phoenix, Arizona (tho guns still allowed to be carried unless the establishment says otherwise!), the western genre is typically not my thing... but I was further encouraged to give this one a shot as I heard it was Coen Brothers-ish and/or Quentin Tarantino-esque (fans of both). Both of those proved true with the endearingly quirky, simple-but-wise observationally philosophical characters of the Coens and the tricky mix of violence and humor of Tarantino.
While I have been wow'd by a couple of this year's ToB books, I am not sure I have been more entertained by one more than The Sister Brothers.
It is a deceptively simple plot that leaves plenty of room to be be dismissed as a trifle piece of genre fiction. At first, it even just seems to be this random collection of odd vignettes, but there is always this storm cloud on the horizon and it builds to a conclusion that plays out in many unexpected ways, tackling all those great "big-issue" literary stuff like destiny, fate, and karma.
While western genre cliches (a duel, saloons, bawdy ladies of the night) and derivative comparisons (if you're game, you'll find plenty more than just the Coens and Tarantino) abound, there is a uniqueness and originality to this work with deWitt's prose smart, sharp and efficient. And last but not least, is crazy cast of characters headed by Eli Sisters - a reluctant assassin with a whole lot of heart - who enters my pantheon of memorably great narrators.
Rating-wise, I feel like I am turning into a softy. I handed out (or rounded up) two 5-star ratings all of last year (only 9% among all my Goodreads books!) and here I am already on my 3rd one of this year... and it's only March! While many of those 5-stars get there based solely on technical merit, The Sisters Brothers not only has that but gets that personal nudge up based on its originality, entertainment value, and the intangible of being a surprise - in so many ways - of a book that I never would have picked up on my own.
In ToB tournament update, I am happy to report that Sisters Brothers made it the finals... where it faced, well... that's my next read! Yes, despite having now read 11 of 16 ToB books (including 7 of 8 of the #1 and #2 seeds), one of the remaining 5 ended up in the finals. So I'll save that reveal and the ToB winner for the next book post!