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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Sisters Brothers


It is hard to know where to start with this one.  If I had to describe Patrick deWitt’s western novel, The Sisters Brothers, in one word, for instance, I would probably choose “irreverent.”  But that word has too many connotations to capture the essence of the book cleanly.  Perhaps, it will help to say that if you are a fan of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Quentin Tarantino movies like Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, or Coen brothers movies like True Grit or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, you will probably love this book. 

Eli and Charlie Sisters have been working for the Commodore for a long time, and have established a formidable reputation of their own by killing, over a number of years, many of the man’s enemies.  As The Sisters Brothers opens, the pair is preparing to make their way from Oregon City to Sacramento where they are to kill the Commodore’s latest nemesis, one Herman Kermit Warm.  Mr. Warm, it seems, has something he refuses to share with the Commodore, a secret formula that will make its owner a very rich man.

It was a long trip from Oregon City to Sacramento in the 1850s frontier, even for two men like the Sisters Brothers, leaving plenty of time and opportunity for things to go wrong along the way. As importantly, there was enough time for Eli Sisters to look back on his life and begin to begin to doubt the validity of the way he and Charlie made their living.  And that is precisely why, and when, the fun starts.  Between Oregon City and Sacramento, the boys encounter a long list of wild women, ruthless businessmen, incompetent gold prospectors, rough cowboys, unfortunate horses, and hustling townspeople guaranteed to keep the reader entertained from the first page to the last.

Patrick deWitt
Eli Sisters might just be my favorite fictional character of 2011.  Ever loyal to Charlie, his older brother, Eli is struggling with the conflict between that keen sense of family loyalty and the guilt he feels about the violent manner in which he and Charlie have lived their lives.  Newly self-aware, Eli concludes that Charlie, to his own advantage, has manipulated him since they were small boys – and that he has allowed Charlie to get away with it.  Despite their frequent bickering, and Charlie’s dominance, however, the relationship between the brothers is a close one.  But, now, Eli is looking for a way out of the life, and watching him ease Charlie toward that frame of mind is a treat.

Bottom line: if you come to The Sisters Brothers with the right mindset, this one is great fun.

Rated at: 5.0
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