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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.


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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"These are wonderful stories. Richler's voice is true and intimate as she reveals a family of compelling characters in a way that is utterly unique. Moving deftly among the humorous and the serious, this quirky, forthright narrator takes us on an immensely readable ride." —Elizabeth Strout, author of Amy and Isabelle

“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)

“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)

Sister Crazy is an utterly exhilarating ride into the heart of childhood and family. It seizes and snaps and delights and moves, snatching the reader by the collar and bustling along in a slaphappy breeze of fresh, sharp language…. This is as unexpected as it is invigorating…. Sister Crazy is shot through with wisecracks and love. It is very, very funny indeed. It is also very affecting. Emma Richler’s evocations of the depth of the bond between the siblings catch the breath with their intensity, the exactitude, their unsentimentality…. [A] work of radiance rather than blackness…. Jem has enumerated a set of rules by which she lives…. Rule Number 7 is ‘Always carry a book with you.’ I recommend you carry this one.” —Catherine Lockerbie, Ottawa Citizen

“I found myself reading it all the way through over the span of a weekend, engaged by the characters and Richler’s writing…Emma Richler has creatd a full character with Jemima Weiss…Her supporting characters are also rich with personality and endearing idiosyncrasies…Richler can tell a good story, and that is what matters most in the final analysis.” —Calgary Straight

“What saves [Sister Crazy] is the singular angle of Emma Richler’s vision, her marvelously rhythmic language and the dark undercurrent that runs through the pages yet surfaces in only a few…This is where Sister Crazy becomes more intriguing, and one gets a stronger sense of Richler’s artistry. What appears as a sequence of linked stories, each focusing on a sibling or a parent, comes together through the skilful bending of time.” —Vancouver Sun

“Richler infuses her prose with a loopy liveliness…Jemima’s perceptions of the world and her family are delicately trenchant…when Richler sticks to the daily activities of the family and how they interact, every word resonates with clairty and density…Emma Richler ricochets from the humorous to the sad in this engaging and statisfying first novel. The angst that Jem endures has similarities to those of Holden Caulfield, and moments of epiphant for both character and reader are many…yet another Richler has writing talent and hige potential.” —Edmonton Journal

From the Hardcover edition.