Author: Patrick DeWitt
Publisher: House of Anansi
Publication Date: 2011
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. Eli and Charlie Sisters can be counted on for that. Though Eli has never shared his brother’s penchant for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. On the road to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside San Francisco — and from the back of his long-suffering one-eyed horse — Eli struggles to make sense of his life without abandoning the job he’s sworn to do.
I’ve been told on a few occasions that I need to read The Sisters Brothers. I love checking out garage sales and library sales for cheap old books, and I managed to pick up a used copy of DeWitt’s novel last fall. It’s been hanging around on my to-read shelf since then, but having one other friend tell me that I had to read this book, motivated me (finally!) to pick my copy off the shelf. The Sisters Brothers is unlike any other story that I’ve read, mainly because I rarely, if ever, read books about the gold rush. DeWitt’s characterization and careful description of the Wild West has motivated me to pursue this era in literature a bit further.
The Wild West is a setting where anything and everything can happen. It creates the perfect setting for a dangerous story with characters that experience profound change over the course of time. It’s essentially a country-wide free-for-all wherein societal rules and norms that exist in nearly all other settings, are discarded and characters are free to move and act as they wish, with little consequence. This makes for a tense, incredibly fast-paced story full of near death experiences, where survival of the fittest is the truest mantra of the era.
Eli and Charlie are the infamous Sisters brothers. They’re hired to complete the Commodore’s bidding, killing those who the Commodore deems to be thieves or betrayers. They are widely known and feared and are not to be outwitted. The story is told from Eli’s perspective, an interesting and likely choice as he is a character more of observation rather than action. Charlie is the more dominant of the two brothers. He takes the position of the lead hunter again and again while Eli is often sidelined and given the “grunt work” type tasks. But Eli is very complex. He’s careful and thoughtful. He’s often contemplative, and is quite discontented by the life that they’re living. His character experience extreme growth and change throughout the duration of the story as his priorities shift to desiring a more permanent, honest line of work.
I will say that with the number of awards won/the number of shortlists made, I was expecting a lot more. Being my first Western, I was thoroughly entertained, but I wouldn’t exactly say it’s award winning. It is a violent and gritty story, definitely worth a read. But if you’re caught up in the hype surrounding DeWitt’s story, I’d say it falls somewhat short of the expectation.