“Everybody was beating each other up. The whole neighborhood was a war zone.”
In my opinion, Ramsland’s ‘Sumobrothers’ can be divided into two.
Section 1: a little more than half of the book. Totally submerged in physical and emotional violence, sadism, sexual assaults, brutal parents, lacking parents, frustrated parents, frustrated children, and last but not least a whole pile of brutal children without an off-switch of any kind.
Section 2: around the last third of the book. Ramsland is himself getting tired of all the violence, and doesn’t really know anymore which kinds of perversity and misery he can dish up without it getting trite. So he resorts to an emotional revelation concerning the state of things when everything is so submerged in violence, seen from the perspective of a child.
Ramsland’s literary style is very intriguing. He sticks to, most of the time, a naive style (something like Norwegian Erlend Loe) that supports the fact that we are seeing these experiences through a child. Or how a grown up would imagine the thoughts of a child would be formed in sentences. And that is in it self a scary perspective. Because there is nothing naive or childish about the experiences that are being narrated. There is no sign of a happy family, or a happy childhood, it is actually very hard to even find one single happy day in the entire book. The style corroborates in showing the brutality these children are captured in.
Having said that; I have written notes while reading the book, both in the shape of impressions and quotes. And when I read them through and think about the whole of the book and its message, I must say that it borders on splatter movie technique. The apparently regulated, but in reality totally unmotivated brutality and sadism that is going on between children, children to animals, parents to children, children to parents etc., is way over the top. I am genuinely scared that I am reading an instructions manual on how to raise sociopaths. I am, to say the least, surprised that half of the characters don’t perish during these 255 pages of violence. And this leads me to believe that Ramsland, when it comes to the subject of violence (no matter who it is against, or in which context), is making light of the seriousness of a violent environment. It is really not necessary to have 34 chapters on how everyone is beating everyone with the most innovative techniques to convince the reader, that violence is an incredibly subversive factor i any society. The physical exposition of the novel appears almost without reflection. Only now and then the narrators angst and reflections come to the surface, and we are truly being introduced to what goes on in the head of someone who plays tennis with a toad for a ball.
It is in all fairness a good novel that becomes too obsessed with the concreteness of violence description, because the stories that are behind all this violence are worth telling. There is the depressive dad, who has given up the life of an artist in order to becoming a traveling shoelace salesman and ‘dead-beat dad’. The frustrated mother, who is rejected by her sons solely on the basis of being the stable parent. And last but not least the children, who are only trying to find out what is going on between every unsaid action and where/how they fit in. I want to read more about that. But please turn down the violence a bit.