Twice as Nice: Patrick deWitt at BookCourt

1. The scene at BookCourt. I make my living as a location scout; I couldn’t resist doing a pan.

Friday night was the second installment of Electric Literature’s own Andy Hunter in conversation with Patrick deWitt, this time across the East River at Brooklyn’s BookCourt. Why two conversations? you may say. Well, I haven’t asked Andy, but I assume it may have been a double-barreled desire (bad pun) to promote one of our favorite authors along with an overarching agenda to promote cross-river boozing. What I do know for sure is that in true EL fashion, the wine was flowing, the audience appropriately grizzled, and the new media accoutrement (animations! Spaghetti Western music!) stellar.

DeWitt’s book, The Sisters Brothers, is being released in paperback and if you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. I’ve just cracked it myself but already I love deWitt’s cool, neurotic, and often funny take on the Western genre. As a Texan, I’ve been fully exposed to the writings of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy, and where McMurtry comes off as a little nostalgic and McCarthy so dark as to be impenetrable, deWitt writes with a humor almost surgical in its precision.

1. Christy Hutchcraft and Anna Bierhaus. Writers and EL followers. Thanks guys! 2. Timothy Lane with Eva Bacon and Lee Bacon. Eva read an advance copy of The Sisters Brothers and couldn’t put it down. Even though (or perhaps because) the title was The Warm Job then.

Reading The Sisters Brothers for some reason takes me right to a movie opening I quite like, unnecessary as it may be:

Way out west there was this fella I wanna tell ya about. Goes by the name of Jeff Lebowski. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him.

1. Andy Hunter giving a shout out to deWitt, one of our favorite Canucks. 2. Patrick deWitt. Author, husband, inventor of weird chemicals that make gold glow green (or at least creator of fictional characters who invent weird chemicals that make gold glow green).

These are, of course, the opening lines to the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, delivered with perfection by Sam Elliot. And before you groan, “The Big Lebowski? Really?” I want to say upfront that I do not think that The Sisters Brothers is The Big Lebowski. It is not. What makes me go back to that stoner/slacker classic is the fact that The Big Lebowski is, at its heart, a stylish and quirky post-Western. Before Lebowski, Hollywood had been tilling the fertile Western soil for the better part of a century, with TV shows like Maverick and Rawhide, and movies from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to The Wild Bunch. The Coen brothers’ movie was different and more subversive (or totally absurdist, depending on your view). It was a fresh take on an old dusty genre. For a while now, McMurtry and McCarthy have ruled the literary Western, serving for most folks as the exception that proved the rule: books about the Wild West are dime-store schlock. If Patrick DeWitt’s fantastic book The Sisters Brothers shows us anything, it’s that there’s plenty of room in the genre for high-brow innovation.

DeWitt said, in response to a question at BookCourt, that he didn’t set out to write a Western. Probably he didn’t, but I for one am glad he Cowboy’d up.

— Cassie Hay is a regular contributor to The Outlet.

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