Ahoy there me mateys! Blustery winds and crazy seas are still severely limiting the time I have to read. So here be a Tidings post with a twist! The First Mate has been reading like a fiend. I
ordered asked him to write a review of something he recently read because I be going through withdraw and NEED to hear about books. At the end of his review I will decide whether the book is kept in the hold for me future reading pleasure or be keelhauled into the watery depths. Hope ye enjoy!
From the First Mate:
I should have read The Hundred Brothers when I purchased it in 1999. At that time, the majority of what I was reading would have been called literary fiction. I was fascinated by what could be done with textual form. I approached those books more on a scale of how much it rewarded my efforts in understanding them rather than how much I was enjoying them for the story itself that was being told. I actively sought out fiction that I thought would make me work to engage with it. I purchased this book from a Borders that no longer exists with every intention of diving into it and figuring out its
secrets. It went on a shelf and then into a box. And then, twenty years later, I picked it up again.
It’s profoundly weird to read something, enjoy it, and positively know that the younger version of myself would have absolutely savored this book. I simply don’t engage with fiction in the way that I once did. To a degree, that realization makes me very sad. Alternatively, I know that the way I currently engage with fiction allows me to enjoy fiction in a way that I previously did not. A simple tradeoff.
The Hundred Brothers is a short 200 page novel about one crazy evening in the Red Library of a crumbling house narrated by one of the titular hundred brothers who have all come together nominally to find their father’s ashes but really get together to be all kinds of horrible to each other. The first sentence of the novel stretches two and a half pages and introduces us to all 100 names of the brothers. Doug, our narrator, is wonderfully unreliable and quickly tries to establish himself as the only sane one of the bunch by describing the picadilloes, failures, and idiocies of his various brothers.
There’s very little plot to the novel. As the brothers are collecting in the library, one brother falls ill and various scuffles break out. A dog gets loose and a camera gets destroyed. Our narrator gets kicked in the face by his oldest brother. Then they have dinner. And throughout it all, Doug interacts with, describes, and ridicules his brothers. One gets the impression that Antrim views these brothers as archetypes of possible forms of masculinity and they’re all horribly flawed.
Flawed masculinity is kind of the main thrust of the book. Casual violence is ever present. Both hetero and homoeroticism is peppered throughout. There’s talk of a football game and childhood violence and ancient pornography. But throughout there’s just a sense of flaws and rot; that whatever once was good in these people and this place has abandoned it.
There’s a single mention of a woman in the entire book. Not a mention of any of the brothers’ mother (or mothers), nor of female significant others. The only mention of a woman is in the first introductory sentence where we learn that George once “amaze[d] everyone, absolutely everyone, by vanishing with a girl named Jane and an overnight bag packed with municipal funds in unmarked hundreds.” Beyond that, it’s all wretched men all the time. Absurdly wretched men comically described by a connivingly unreliable narrator.
My thoughts have continued to return to The Hundred Brothers since I’ve finished it. I keep thinking about Antrim’s various phrasings throughout. The way in which various vital parts of the narrative are simply left to be inferred (what is going on with the people camping outside?) or wondering how much of the last thirty pages actually happened. I can feel myself wanting to take the novel apart and figure out all its inner workings. I want to pick up his other books, though I know they would also make me feel as though I should have read them two decades ago. It’s created an itch to read more literary fiction again.
Recommended only to fans of late 90s literary fiction. Everyone else
should avoid this like the plague (which maybe no longer means what it
Yer Captain’s Verdict:
KEEP! Arrrr! This sounds so very weird and it be short. I can’t help but want to read about the shenanigans.
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
There’s Rob, Bob, Tom, Paul, Ralph, and Phil; Siegfried, the sculptor in burning steel; blind Albert and ninety-three-year-old Hiram; Foster, the New Age psychoanalyst; and Maxwell, the tropical botanist, who, since returning from the rain forest, has seemed a little screwed up somehow. When PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Donald Antrim brings them and their eighty-nine equally eccentric kinsmen together in the decaying library of their family estate for cocktails, a light supper, and a little ritual sacrifice, the result suggests a high-speed collision between The Brothers Karamazov and the Brothers Marx. Moving swiftly from slapstick to horror and back, The Hundred Brothers establishes Antrim as one of our most mordantly and satanically playful young writers, whose insights into the agonies of kinship are as serious as they are hilarious.
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