Sister Crazy

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Jemima Weiss grew up with a special feeling for British commandos, American westerns, the Knights of the Round Table, bagels with cheddar on top, and, above all else, her family. Now grown into a worldly yet deeply troubled woman, Jem revisits her formative years, even as she struggles not to let herself be engulfed by the present. In a voice crackling with humour and shot with straight talk, she recounts a childhood in a family so extraordinary that it has left her adrift in the adult world.

In seven episodes that elide to form a dense, rich impression of an unforgettable family, Jem candidly relates her mythological view of her parents – her gruff Jewish father, whom she saw as a gunslinging cowboy, and her prophetic, beautiful mother who, like a “good witch,” always knew what her children were thinking and feeling. Then there are her four siblings, chief among them a charismatic, adventurous brother who has remained Jem’s main object of affection, and her ethereal little sister, Harriet, who becomes a surprising source of comfort in Jem’s adult life.


Dad just spoke.

"What?" I say.

"Sorry, what?"

"We are not going to any other shops. Just the chemist. I'll stay in the car. You have ten minutes." I start singing in my head, the tune from the Sturges film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. — RAAL! O-...
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"The tone is confiding, the form original in its meandering ('nothing is separate but works in a chain-like way'), and I was charmed and impressed. Then I began to wish for more."
The Observer Sunday September 30, 2001

"Sister Crazy… is carried by a voice so unerring and sure that readers will find very little suspension of disbelief is required… There’s no plot here, per se; the structure is that of memory, and the first person narrative, at times richly poetic, meanders as memory does, between Jem’s childhood, her lucid remembrance of that childhood, and a pale mysterious adult present, less real to us because it is less real to her.”
—Darcy Cosper, Bookforum

“Emma Richler ricochets from the humorous to the sad in this engaging and satisfying first novel.”…yet another Richler has writing talent and huge potential.”
The Edmonton Journal

“Emma Richler’s characters may be familiar but her point of view is fresh and funny, smart and startling. She may be her father’s daughter (and that’s no bad thing) but Emma Richler is definitely and defiantly an acomplished writer in her own right.”
BOOKS in Canada

Sister Crazy is not a conventional “book.” It’s word-photos, freeze-frames. Each with a story. Each story told in a unique voice. Whatever this word-accretion is, it went straight to my soul and will not leave.”
—Gale Zoe Garnet, The Globe and Mail

“There’s a lot going on in Sister Crazy, Emma Richler’s debut novel that manages to mix references to St. Francis of Assisi, champagne, cowboys, nuns, and famous films like Jules et Jim without hitting a single pretentious note. Best of all the dysfunctional family equation — unhappy childhood equals crazy adult — is refreshingly turned on its head…. The humour is subtle and slightly wicked…. A terrific debut.”
—Marnie Woodrow, Quill & Quire (April 2001)

“[A] nervy, inspired debut novel…. Richler perfectly channels Jem’s wise child voice…. She captures the allure and subtle perils of a[n] intense, hothouse upbringing.”
Publishers Weekly

Sister Crazy, with its easy prose, piercing insights and sly wit, is actually a rather fine debut…Sister Crazy's depiction of a golden childhood is enlivened by amusing meditations on all sorts of things — French films and malt whisky, commandos and cowboys, St. Francis of Assisi and the Knights of the Round Table. But the brief glimpses of Jemima as a tormented adult sting like thorns from a rose bush.”
National Post

“Emma Richler’s first book is a fantastically vivid characterization of childhood shot through with random holes from a rear-facing cannon of adult depression. You want to throw your arms around Jemima—to adore the true-hearted child, to protect the vulnerable adult.”
—Elaine Evans, National Post

“Richler’s … authorial voice [is] at once entertaining and serious, almost philosophical at times…. She draws her somewhat eccentric parents and four siblings with enviable confidence and insight. Their delightful quirkiness carries over into Richler’s own style, which includes introducing such wide-ranging elements as the Knights of the Round Table, Ebenezer Scrooge, action figures and astronomy into the narrative. She juggles and weaves her seemingly disparate topics with ease…. Richler’s writing is superb: crisp and sure, sometimes surprisingly poetic, often infused with a sly humour…. Richler … abandoned an acting career to write this book. Her choice was no mistake.” —The Toronto Star

“Extraordinary…. The narrative voice is, by turns, grave, funny, mytho-spiritual, ironic, poetic and wary…. [Emma Richler’s prose] is gulping, thrusting, almost punctuationless…. Sister Crazy is not a conventional ‘book.’ It’s word-photos, freeze frames. Each with a story. Each story told in a full and unique voice. Whatever this word accretion is, it went straight to my soul and will not leave.”
The Globe and Mail

“The stories in Sister Crazy resemble dramatic monologues; they aren’t linear narratives. Instead Jemima prefers to start with a single fact or recollection and bounce around from it, exploring connected ideas, leaping between episodes and across time, from herself as a child to herself as an adult.… The power of a moment is reinforced by the way it echoes back along the chain of associations we have patiently followed…. The books comes most alive at those moments when a blast of anger toward the father pierces the false nonchalance of the narrator’s voice.”
—Marcel Theroux, The New York Times

Richler at her best balances on a knife-edge between humour and sadness.”
Maclean’ s

“Richler's prose is honest, vulnerable and engaging.”
The Gazette (Montreal)