- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Donald Antrim's second novel, The Hundred Brothers, may be the most fascinating balancing act you'll witness in American fiction this year. This wildly cerebral book ù which is quite literally about a group of 100 squabbling brothers who gather for an annual meal ù is full of dark, Pynchonesque absurdities, as well as a whiff of apocalyptic dread that feels borrowed from Poe's classic short story "The Masque of the Red Death." But because Antrim manages to smuggle so much warmth and real feeling into his narrative, The Hundred Brothers can also be read as a surprisingly acute (if outlandish) take on the vicissitudes of sibling relationships. It's a riveting, fairly miraculous performance.
This landslide of brothers ranges in age from Hiram, who's 93, to several who are in their mid-20s. They gather in the family's massive, red-hued library to ù as Doug, the book's genealogy-minded narrator, puts it ù "stop being blue, put the past behind us, share a light supper, and locate, if we could bear to, the missing urn full of the old fucker's ashes." The aforementioned old fucker is, of course, the brothers' father, whose unstated presence looms uneasily over the gathering. Antrim does an admirably deft job of introducing us to these myriad brothers without losing the thread of his narrative. He does an even better job of showing us how old resentments quickly come bubbling to the surface. Before long, the evening has turned into a kind of free-for-all of broken furniture and hurled insults, with nearly every brother harboring either a physical or psychic bruise. "Boys will be boys," Antrim chirps, "even when they're men with heart conditions."
Antrim gets a lot of comic mileage out of the book's library setting. When one brother finds himself lost, naked and wearing a tribal mask in the library's stacks (don't ask), here are some of the directions he receives from another: "Follow Hobbes through The Age of Dryden, then veer left. This brings you face-to-face with Pope and Swift. You will not have noticed anything in translation. If you do encounter any French political writing, you'll know you're in the wrong corridor. You'll have to make a half-turn and backtrack through Sir Walter Scott." The library, which is in a state of crumbling disrepair, comes to symbolize civilization as a whole ù it's the ultimate academic ivory tower. Outside the library's walls, there are hints of a society in ruins, hints that add an extra layer of urgency and poignancy to the evening's proceedings.
While The Hundred Brothers ends on a strange and falsely abrupt note, this remarkable book remains true to its central human subject: "the sorry indignities that pass as currency between us in lieu of gentler tender." -- Salon