Patrick deWitt is being credited with “reinventing the Western genre”, however The Sisters Brothers didn’t really feel like a traditional Western to me. In fact, it didn’t have to take place in a Western setting at all—the horses, the guns, the journey were all just details surrounding the intriguing life of Eli and Charlie Sisters.
Narrated through the eyes of Eli—the heavyset, younger brother—the Sisters brothers are hired guns. They’re notorious killers and feared throughout the States—especially Charlie’s gun-slinging.
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.
DeWitt spins a violent, lustful, hung-over and humorous odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier. Doffing his hat to the classic Western, he then transforms it into a comic tour-de-force with an unforgettable narrative voice that captures all the absurdity, melancholy, and grit of the West — and of these two brothers, bound to each other by blood and scars and love.
From the publisher, House of Anansi Press
Eli and Charlie are anti-heroes and their relationship reminded me a lot of Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck. Eli is reflective, thoughtful and spends a great portion of the novel considering the social, emotional, economic and ethical repercussions of the way the brothers’ life has gone. Charlie is brash, violent, lustful, and a whiskey-drinking fiend.
As the story unravels, we begin to learn the brothers’ backstory and how they became the notorious criminals they are today. The dark, dry humour of deWitt’s style really appealed to me and I was smiling to myself and giggling out loud. At one point I remember calling my friend to share a hilarious line about someone having a “head that invited violence”. This bleak humour reminds me of Christopher Moore’s style which I also enjoy.
I enjoyed The Sisters Brothers, but I don’t think I loved it as much as other people seem to. It’s a very cleanly written book and the plotline is straightforward. I didn’t have to think too hard to follow along; Eli’s first-person POV laid things out clearly. I enjoyed the story and could read on autopilot—which is not a bad thing at all. With school starting back up, it was a welcome break to read something that didn’t make my head explode.
- Shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
- Longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize
- Shortlisted for the 2011 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
Full disclosure: A copy was sent to me by the publisher. This did not affect my review in any way.