While you’re waiting for my book, William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room (you may be waiting a while) to come out, you might want to go grab a copy of The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt. It’s got the sort of sensibility I love and the cast of characters are flawed and fantastic. Once you’re done with that (or before, I don’t mind), Claire North’s new book, Touch is out, and well worth your time while you sit in your local bookstore in the Fiction aisles by the ‘H’s, camped out on the floor with a halogen lamp, hard hat, blanket, picnic lunch, butterfly net, accosting each and every employee who wanders past, dragging at their cuffs, begging them to let you have the very first copy of William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room, you’ve got to have it. Touch is the slightly larger book, so having that on hand in the bookstore while you sit your vigil will lend itself as a defense when the book store security finally show up to escort you out, as it makes an excellent shield (not that I know from personal experience). On the down side, you’ll also believe that you can simply transition to the security guard’s body by touching their skin, so maybe that book wouldn’t be the better choice. If you’re reading The Sisters Brothers, there is a good chance you’ll try gunning down the security guards in cold blood, which also isn’t a great idea, so perhaps you should read those two books from the comfort of your own home and maybe just read the reviews of the books that follow while you’re slumped against the ‘H’ shelf, hoping that, like some magical fairy or mirage on the horizon, one of the times you look up to check the shelf that there, next to the Kristin Hannah books, is William Murphy’s Trip to the Quiet Room, by Matthew Hanlon.
I haven’t had a lot of success reading books with a blurb along the lines of “Could be the finest comic novel since Flann O’Brien’s…” or anything comparing an author or book to Flann O’Brien, but here I go with my own comparison: “The Sisters Brothers” is like some long-lost cousin to Flann O’Brien’s novels. The American cousin, if you will.
I loved the voice and I thought the way Patrick deWitt developed the brothers’ relationship was excellent, the driving force behind their trip down south to kill a man for the Commodore. But the whole cast of characters — the crying man they meet along their way; Mayfield, the bigwig in a small town; Warm, the man they’re meant to kill; and the boy, abandoned by his gold prospecting party — they would be comfortable showing up in “The Third Policeman” or “At Swim-Two-Birds.” There is an exchange between Mayfield and the brothers, mid-way through their meeting, where Mayfield recounts being robbed by a man with a limp in their hometown of Oregon City, then thinks to ask them if either of them walks with a limp. The dialogue back and forth is pretty snappy and well-timed.
Each and every one of these characters has a little bit of despair at their core that keeps the humor pretty black, and it’s a sometimes matter-of-factly gruesome ride with these notorious Sisters Brothers, but I thought the book was brilliant from start to finish.
Like her own creation, Kepler, I felt like, when I touched the pages of this book, I, too became something else, someone else. The Reader.
The book was paced really well, the action and flips from one person to the next effective. So Kepler is this sort of creature who inhabits people’s bodies upon touching their skin. Their kind has lived for ages, passing from one host to the next, absconding with that new person’s life, leaving their old host suddenly days, weeks, years older and minus the intervening memories. It’s a great idea for a story and it raises so many practical and philosophical questions, and Claire North dredges most of them up and paints an empathetic picture for The Reader — it’s not that the protagonist, this Kepler, is purely good, you get the sense that there is a myriad of shades of grey and all sorts here, and it just makes the story more entertaining.
The author has a great ear for snappy dialogue, and since we’re also dealing with people who realize that the other person to whom they’re speaking has just been in possession of their own body you have the occasion for discussions about what the other has been eating while inhabiting the owner’s body which might get a little dizzying, but fun.
If Claire North started writing the information on the side of a box of cereal I would suddenly start buying a lot more of that cereal, she’s just the business, and I’m very jealous, indeed.
While this book wasn’t as good as the mesmerizing “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August,” it’s still an excellent read. I worry that maybe I *had* been possessed by something , something that even still has a hold of me and makes me want to rush around the streets, accosting strangers, asking them if they haven’t read “Touch” just yet, and if not, why not?