Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What does it mean to be terminally, madly in love with your family? Jemima Weiss, the narrator of this nervy, inspired debut novel, knows very well the perils of the condition. She has never quite recovered from an imperfect but dangerously idyllic childhood, and in her stream-of-consciousness tale she loses herself in the lush lexicography of family. She is the middle child of five, born in the early `60s to an irascible Jewish sportswriter father and a gorgeous, serene Protestant mother who relocate from England to Canada when Jem is 11. Transatlantic and sophisticated, but also na ve and slightly wild, Jem and her siblings speak their own coded language, full of in-jokes and rambling free association (" `Agnus Dei,' says Ben. `Paschal lamb. Lamb to the slaughter.' `Mary had a little lamb!' I say"). Ben, the eldest, has what the family calls a gothic sensibility; Gus, the youngest, is a golden boy. Jem loves them both, but her deepest, most complicated feelings are reserved for scattered, ethereal Harriet, three years younger and her special charge, and silent, stalwart Jude, her beloved almost-twin. Vignettes strung together according to Jem's private logic allude to her education at different convent schools, the WWII games she plays with Jude, her fascination with St. Francis of Assisi (who "called everything Brother this and Sister that"). Throughout, hints dropped by an adult Jem reveal that "Sister Crazy" is not just a play name. As she grows up, Jem lapses into madness, tormented by the loss of the intimacies of childhood. Richler (daughter of the Canadian writer Mordecai Richler) perfectly channels Jem's wise-child voice. Though her narrative does not quite achieve the crystal clarity of Salinger's Glass family stories, she captures the allure and subtle perils of a similarly intense, hothouse upbringing. (May 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Precious, self-indulgent first novel. Jemima Weiss, the precocious daughter of a former model and a gruff sportswriter, is given to whiling away afternoons playing elaborate, improvised games with her older brothers, Ben and Jude, and her fragile younger sister, Harriet, with baby Gus in the background. Ben, Jude, and Jem prefer action figures, but Harriet is the soul of femininity, a budding ballerina who collects stuffed lambies and fluffy chicks. Still, the siblings all get along well enough. Jem likes to tag after her father, a home-loving man who adores single-malt Scotch; and she's devoted to her mother, a delicate beauty who, for unspecified reasons, must be protected from the harsher aspects of real life, something Jem strives mightily to do. Little disturbs this sheltered childhood, except the crosspatch nun who informs convent-schooled Jemima that the Jews killed Jesus. Though nominally Jewish (her mother is not), Jem is untroubled by this revelation. Life goes on, and it's back to the banks of an ever-flowing stream of consciousness for the girl who's dubbed herself Sister Crazy. First-time author Richler obsesses endlessly over her heroine's toys, books, and favorite TV shows and movies, devoting many pages to lengthy recapitulations of the plots and scenes in films from Ben Hur to A Man and a Woman, plus everything in between. The point (if there is one) seems to be that movies are how Jemima makes sense of the world outside her charmed family circle. Eventually, she grows up enough to acquire a shrink and a taste for single malt herself. (Typically, the label of her favorite brand is described in minute and irritating detail.) She even develops an interesting but, thankgoodness, non–life-threatening affliction: fibroid uterine tumors, which she names for her four siblings. Not nearly as cute as its author might think.
From the Publisher
“Ravished is how you will feel at the end of Emma Richler's first collection . . . . Something important has happened: not to the characters but to you." —Daniel Mendelsohn, New York
“[A] slim, elegant debut. … Sister Crazy is . . . luminescent” — Los Angeles Times
“Comic, poignant, and terrifying, these unusual stories expose the dangers of loving one's family too much” — The New Yorker
“A stunningly beautiful debut. … Sister Crazy strikes a perfect balance. It is edgy, touching, dark and warm: not by turns, but all at once” — January Magazine
Read an Excerpt
The sprawling Weiss familyas recalled by Jemima, the middle child in Emma Richler’s amazing debutlive an almost idyllic existence. The feeling among the siblings is so palpable that we cannot help but share the acute nostalgia Jem experiences as she emerges from childhood.
In a darkly humorous voice she tells of playing elaborate war games with toy Action Man figures, composing a survival book ("Always have some sports news at hand for when your dad is in hospital after a scary operation to do with a fatal disease"), closely observing her beautiful Mum to fathom her magic, weaving the story of the Grail quest into her brother Jude's life. Jem’s extravagant tales of her eccentric beloved family will linger long after the last line.