Shortlisted for the Booker Prize
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.
With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.
Topics: Crime and Funny
Be the first to review this title!
I never experienced these things with this book:
- interesting turns of phrase/love of language, metaphor, larger meaning, etc.
- complex characters doing interesting things
- the compelling "dream" of fiction -- the words were just words on a page, they only began to conjure up that dream of a fictional world after page 150, which seemed entirely too long to wait.
When I finished it, I wondered why I had read it. I didn't feel moved by having read it and gone on the fictional journey with this protagonist.
It made me realize how much I admire The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer, which is also a genre-bending "Western" of sorts. In that book, the writer takes serious risks and while the result is sometimes uneven, it's still a very good and engaging character and story.more
Now that you all know how silly and shallow I can be, this book is about two gunslinger brothers in the 1850s in the American West traveling to do a job, AKA kill, and killing on the way if they feel they have to or if they are threatened. They meet some interesting characters, both men and women, on the way. They kill a bear, have their first experience with Novocaine, and run into a genius inventor, a gypsy witch and a cruel dreaming girl, that sort of thing.
But what this novel is *really* about is the relationship and contrast between two brothers, one of which got sick of their father's abuse and killed him. Considering their rough around the edges start in adolescence, it really shouldn't surprise anyone that they earn their keep as hitmen. What is surprising is the strange set of morals they abide by and their vast differences in terms of personality and thought processes. These two brothers are drastically apart but they stick together because of their blood link and shared past.
I think about what I learned from this novel and it was relatively little, which makes me feel sad. I tend to learn much more when I read novels set in the past by Thomas Pynchon, for example, though this was far easier to read. I guess what I can say for it, then, is that it is as likable as the sensitive and large, slightly dope, Sister Brother and, if anything, deWitt makes you want to get to the end just to see what happens to him alone, which is an accomplishment.
Still, I'd recommend it only to those interested in this time period in American history. In all likelihood, you'll get more out of it than I did.
pg. 143 The violence of her words and temper caught me by surprise; I found myself taking a step away from her. ' You are a peculiar girl,' I said.
'It's a peculiar lifetime on earth,' she countered."
"...there appeared in this yard before me a fist-sized, swirling gray -and-black cloud. This grew bigger and was soon a foot across, then two feet, then ten-now it was as big as the house. And I felt the wind from it's spinning, a cold wind, so cold it burned my face."
pg. 163 "You got all the romantic blood, is that it?"
"Our blood is the same, we just use it differently"
pg. 283-284 "...we were outside of time, is how it felt to me; our experience was so uncommon we were elevated to a place where such concerns as minutes and seconds were not only irrelevant but did not exist...I had never before pondered the notion of humanity, or whether I was happy or unhappy to be human, I now felt a sense of pride at the human mind, its curiosity and perseverance; I was obstinately glad to be alive, and glad to be myself."
pg. 317 "A great man is one who can pinpoint a vacuity in the material world and inject into this blank space an essence of himself? A great man is one who can create good fortune in a place where there previously was non through sheer force of will! A great man, then, is one who can make something from nothing! And the world around you, assembled gentlemen, believe me what I say it is just that-nothing!
Kevin Peterson, a.k.a. Kevin from Canada, suggested that deWitt’s novel could be a script for a Coen Brothers movie. It does have some of the quirky humor of, say, “The Big Lebowski”. The title characters, Eli and Charlie Sisters, could well have been forebears of The Dude. The novel’s overall tone and structure also resembles their Homeresque “O Brother, Where Art Thou”.
Set in 1851, the novel, narrated by Eli, is a variation of the classic road trip or, perhaps more accurately, a permutation of the Spanish picaresque novel. In deWitt’s hands, the two brothers are an odd pair of professional assassins who head off from the Oregon Territory to San Francisco, hired to kill one Hermann Kermit Warm, a gold prospector.
Along the way and before they get to their target they fall into a string of adventures and encounter a variety of reprobates and sad-sacks, including a horse that barely qualifies as a live animal. All quite entertaining if generally violent and sometimes improbable but always cleverly humorous.
When the brothers finally reach San Francisco, they find that their prey has taken off ahead of them into the gold fields of Sacrament with a chemical formula for finding and extracting gold with a minimum amount of labor. By the time they catch up to Kermit Warm their interest in prospecting is poised to cancel the original objective.
The joy of the novel is its quick telling. It is certainly clearly written, with an ear and eye to the sounds, styles and conventions of those past times. There is some brutality but nowhere near the violence of Cormac McCarthy’s western tales. And there is always the comic undertone.
Eli and Charlie Sisters are brothers who work for a boss named The Commodore. They're professional killers and they have been charged to leave Oregon, go to California to find a prospector named Herman Warm that has stolen something from the Commodore.
They have hijinks and meet odd characters along the way. Along this journey, Eli engages his developing conscience and decides that killing men may not be the life for him.
There's a sort-of-twist ending. The whole thing is very dark, but the humor just didn't resonate. Maybe it was the plot that took away from the humor.
I liked the character of Eli, but I was underwhelmed by the whole book. Luckily it was incredibly short and a fast read.more
The Sisters brothers are killers; and they are good at it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have compassion or they aren’t not trying to be better people. Eli Sister (the narrator) doesn’t seem to have the heart for killing but he would follow his brother Charlie and protect him whenever needed. This isn’t a clear cut good guys and bad guys, this is all shades of grey; much like life. This book is worth reading; it is relatively easy to read and the writing style (once I got use to it) was very pleasant. The characters are what make this book in the end; they are deeply flawed, a little stupid at times, trying to do good, but all in all realistic and believable.more
Charlie and Eli Sisters are feared assassins in Oregon Territory in 1851. Their boss sends them on a mission to Gold Rush California to kill a prospector, no questions asked. As they make their way through the Oregon desert and over the Shasta pass, Eli's conscience begins to awaken and he starts to question the arc of his life. The story is told in Eli's surprisingly educated (for an assassin) voice, as he begins to picture a better life while helping his alcoholic brother acquire bottles of morphine to treat his hangovers.
The readability of this one is off the charts. I finished it in less than a day, which for a book of its size is astonishing. I don't think any book since Douglas Adams has pulled me along so quickly.
*I found one anachronism in The Sisters Brothers, but it didn't bother me. Eli mentions a tuxedo, when as far as I can tell no such thing existed in 1851.more