ToB: State of Wonder vs The Sisters Brothers

Steven: You guys!  Did you read that?!  You guys!  The Sisters Brothers!  (THAT is the kind of sophisticated commentary you have come to expect from this blog).  Wil Wheaton CRUSH(ER)ED State of Wonder! (Get it? Star Trek puns I hate myself).  As I have mentioned here before, The Sisters Brothers was my favourite book out of nine I read for the Tournament, very likely my favourite book of 2011 (that I can think of off the top of my head).  I would usually describe myself as not a man of Westerns.  My exposure to them has been limited and it’s just a genre that has never hugely appealed.  That said, this was my favourite book of last year and Deadwood is the best TV show in the world ever I won’t hear any arguments go watch it right now, SO, maybe I need to examine my preconceptions.

Anyways, set during the California gold rush the book follows the journeys of Eli (the narrator) and Charlie Sisters as they track down a prospector for their unseemly employer, known as the Commodore.  For much of it’s length the book reminds me of a (much, much darker) picaresque novel, with the brothers travelling from Oregon to California meeting (sometimes murdering) strange and interesting characters, with themes of loneliness and the lure of gold throughout.  As for today, both Wesley Crusher and the commentators mentioned that it took a bit of adjusting to get into Eli’s narration, but I didn’t find that at all.  I remember telling a friend that it was a great book when I was only on PAGE TWELVE.  Maybe I just identify with murderers WHO CAN SAY BUT THAT WOULD NOT HOLD UP AS PROOF IN A COURT OF LAW.  I found the prose fantastic –  taut, engaging and noiresque and I really enjoyed the episodic nature of the book.  The brothers themselves are very well drawn, and as Crusher says you care greatly about both of them by the end.  The minor characters are also intriguing, and many add an excellent touch of weird to the book that makes it all the better.  Also, and this is worth mentioning, the book design is fantastic.  It is rare to see a book that looks this unique and, well, GOOD.

Minor complaint wise, I did feel a bit let down at the end though, unlike commentator Kevin, not because of the admittedly convenient but still totally believable diary, but rather because I felt the dark tone that the book had had from the beginning didn’t pay out in the end.  I’m not a fan of dark for the sake of dark Dark Knight style (or anything for the sake of itself for that matter, lookin right atcha any emotionally manipulative book about cancer) but I feel that, while the book was sad, it could have just gone that bit further.  Furthermore, and this isn’t a fault of the book, I don’t get why a bunch of reviewers are saying it was hilarious?  It was WRY, certainly, and there was some fun to be had with Eli’s new found obsession with toothbrushing (which, if you’d never done, you’d totally be into to) but hilarious IT WAS NOT.  But you know what it was?  THE BEST.  Get some in ya.

As for State of Wonder, let no man say it is not a book.

OK, I’m being harsh.  State of Wonder is totes good too. So Dr Marina Singh sets off into Brazilian jungle to report back on renegade researcher Dr Swenson. Swenson is working on what may be a highly valuable new drug, but she is not so good at reporting back in, and the last researcher who was sent to check on her, oh I don’t know, DISAPPEARED! Ann Patchett writes very well and while I agree with much of the criticism that Wesley Crusher dispenses, I certainly think that the book has enough redeeming features.  THAT SAID let’s dwell on some of these complaints.  First of all I am super glad that everyone seems to agree with me that, you know what, we wanted a bit more adventure-y, lowbrow ACTION.  For me, the premise, as familiar as it is, is still super awesome and I just never felt the book lived up from that, even though it wasn’t even trying to.  As Kevin Guilfoile says, “It’s almost as if, having decided on a premise with such a familiar, plot-oriented hook, Patchett keeps running away from the story’s possibilities. It’s a good thing—even a necessary thing, I’d say—to subvert the reader’s expectations, and I think that’s what she’s going for here. Clearly she wanted to write a novel that was more than just an adventure story. But she also ended up with something not quite as satisfying as an adventure story”.  Secondly, once those expectations ARE subverted there is a ton of foreshadowing and enough hints given that nothing that occurs is unpredictable.  My only surprise at the ending was its suddenness (especially after the long burn of the rest of the book).  Still, these issues aside there is much to like.  I didn’t find the characters nearly as hate-able as judge Wheaton, except of course for the walking stereotype that is Dr. Swenson who is MEANT to be like that, as awful as ‘that’ is (I really hated Dr. Swenson). In the end it all comes down to the writing though, and all issues aside Patchett’s is really good enough to make these problems with the plot not be too big an issue.  While I didn’t love it like I did the Sisters Brothers, it is still a Good Book (which we have in store!  For only $29.99!) Fay?

Fay: Yeah I liked State of Wonder fine. In fact more than fine. I agree with the complaints: Swensen sucked, not much happened, it doesn’t live up to the adventure BUT as you just said, Ann Patchett is really good at writing. It was atmospheric, lush and heavy with jungle feel. I found the characters plenty likeable and, like Marina, it immersed you in the environment until you turned around and you were right in there, agreeing with the people you didn’t know or like at first, or at least understanding where they were coming from. I didn’t see the ending coming either, that’s such an easy thing to say after you’ve already read it. I guess for me it just didn’t live up to what I could have been. But as Kevin said, maybe that was the point? I didn’t think about it like that at the time but the more I think about it the more it grows on me. Like some sort of jungle parasite. I would go right ahead and recommend it as clever, immersing and very atmospheric. Did I say that already? But it was.

Steven: So!  With that decided in the best possible way, tomorrow brings Swamplandia! vs. The Cat’s Table.  I’ve read them both so I’m going to talk at you some more.  See you then!

xoxo Gossip Girl

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