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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Cormac McCarthy, James Carlos Blake, Ron Hansen, Larry McMurtry, and Charles Frazier are the reigning lords of the hard-eyed American historical novel. 'Blood Meridian' can't be called a 'western', any more than 'Wildwood Boys' or 'Desperadoes'. Larry McMurtry comes closest to embracing the tropes of the 'western' genre, but subverts reader expectations at every turn. The frontier was not settled by singing cowboys. Indians weren't simple savages, but they weren't the noble nature-loving quasi-Buddhists that became the Hollywood cliché in the late-sixties and seventies. It was a brutal, vicious battleground, where every random encounter between strangers would very likely end violently.

Patrick DeWitt has joined this august company with `The Sisters Brothers', a novel that combines the flawlessly crafted prose of Charles Frazier or fellow Canadian Michael Ondaatje, with a darkly comical tale that suggests Charles Portis -- 'True Grit' as realized by the Coen Brothers - and James Carlos Blake - particularly his brutal masterpiece `In the Rogue Blood'. Like the latter, DeWitt's book is a story about brothers who are born killers made for a bloody world; like the former, it has a darkly comedic intelligence. As a Canadian myself, I felt bad about NOT feeling bad about the lack of native literary fiber in my pulp-heavy diet. Ondaatje, yes. Atwood, sure. But beyond `Oryx and Crake', I can't remember the last time I read another Canadian novel. Tony Burgess and `Pontypool Changes Everything', I guess, preceded by the loosely connected stories in `The Hellmouths of Bewdley'... 10, 15 years ago. Which means that I'm confessing to being a bad Canadian. Even before Gian Gomeshi was unmasked as Jack the Ripper, I still fled in terror when `Canada Reads' infected the CBC airwaves, with a suitably terrifying frontman. I knew that anyone who could create music as undeniably evil as the sonic terrorism of Moxy Fruvous... Anyway...

I feel like Dewitt has finally crafted Canlit that doesn't feel like a homework assignment. `The Sisters Brothers' is a cocaine counterpoint to the literary laxatives of `Two Solitudes' and `The Stone Angel'. If the point of using Hugh McLennan and Margaret Lawrence was to scare kids away from Canlit forever - brilliant. They could also have value as practical demonstrations of Relativity: narrative black holes clearly distorting space-time, each paragraph requires a dogged determination; when you manage to break free of it's oppressive gravitational pull, hours have passed... and you're still on the same page.

It's probably true that those wacky kids would hate any book they're forced to read. But the chances of creating an entire generation of anti-Canlit jihadists will be significantly reduced if we take a sledge-hammer to `The Stone Angel' and go with `The Sisters Brothers' instead. Unless teenagers completely suck. I'm willing to consider that possibility.

What's it about, you ask? Due to my severe case of CBPTSD (Canlit-based Post Traumatic Stress Dissorder), any attempts at literary synopsis or criticism may result in projectile vomit, pointy eyeballs, and an elegant, convulsive style of dance that is like an unholy union of Krumpin', Riverdance, and the Macarena... but it's actually a Grand Mal seizure. Still, I'm doing this for my country, dammit!

Eli and Charlie Sisters are cold-blooded killers employed by a man known as `The Commodore'. Eli is the narrator of the tale, and he often defers to his brothers. Eli has a soft streak that Charlie doesn't seem to possess, showing a sympathy and occasional empathy that is totally inappropriate for a hired gun. Charlie is very different person - lean and quick and calculating, with a violent temper that often affects his trigger finger... his primary source of income.

The story opens in Oregon City, as the Sisters brothers set out on orders to murder a prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm, whom the Commodore has denounced simply as a thief. Their journey to San Francisco is an eventful one, and Charlie begins to express anger with The Commodore, and dissatisfaction with their arrangement. Upon arriving in the city, they track down a friend of Warm's, who reveals some very interesting details concerning the German prospector's partnership and subsequent falling-out with The Commodore. It involves a method of finding and extracting gold from riverbeds, based on a chemical of Warm's devising. He absconded with his work and secrets when he realized that his partner would certainly kill him once the formula was done. Eli and Charlie now must decide between loyalty to their employer, and a chance to get rich by betraying him.

In between, `The Sisters Brothers' is rich to overflowing with fascinating characters and stories. The dynamic between Eli and Charlie provides the most memorable relationships and characters I've come across in ages. This is one of my new favorites, and it feels super patriotic to say that Patrick DeWitt is one of my favorite authors. He's saved fiction in Canada. If someone says that Canadian Literature doesn't need saving - smite them with a righteous vengeance!... Or start a conversation. Either way is good. But READ this book... Do it for Canada (Or if you're American, read it because it rocks).
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on March 7, 2016
Although it's certainly not a hard western, it's a strong western-lite. Hitting all the right notes for people who may not be fans of the genre generally. I wouldn't call it phenomenal, but it's engaging.
The core characters (Charlie, Eli, and Tub) are well crafted, while others are, obviously, less fleshed out. Unfortunately the non-core characters end up feeling somewhat punchliney, and end up being used almost exclusively to reflect back on Charlie and Eli.
The plot is pretty simple aside from one or two twists, though the narrative never really strays from it's path. The book also leans HEAVILY on tropes of the western genre.
This may sound a little bit on the negative side, but there are some good reasons the book was so successful. The accessibility and narrative drive create an easy reading experience, and the simplicity of the satellite characters keeps from jostling the plot. It came out at a pretty much perfect time for a mini-western revival, and scratching that itch was obviously a contributing factor, but none of that would have mattered if the book wasn't at least honest with it's characters.
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on May 5, 2012
This is a fine book. Beautiful language, interesting story. I have read that many people find it funny, but I confess that I did not. It was amusing at times, and never predictable or boring, but I never laughed. I do not mean that as criticism. I read it in a rush, which is unusual for me, because I just loved the narrator's words. It felt to me like a "guy book", but my wife's book club (all women) read it and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit as well.
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on April 16, 2012
I did not have high expectations for The Sisters Brothers before reading it, despite the awards and critic's reviews. It was a book club selection. I quickly discovered that it was not a typical read of the Western genre. It was witty, hillarious in parts, utterly readable, and educational to boot. There was a psychological richness to it that did not disappoint.

Pros: I loved the narrator's character, Eli, who is one of the Sister's brothers. It was a complex, rich and quite believeable character that offered plenty of surprises. I also really enjoyed the humour.

Cons: Despite the obvious point that the ending was making and its important message, I did not enjoy the ending. Perhaps that's just me, though. I will let you decide for yourself.
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on January 16, 2015
A new classic. Reminds me of True Grit but different, its own thing. The narrator again is great---that is what carries this book, I think. The great narration of Charlie Sisters. I am looking forward to more from Dewitt.
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on February 14, 2012
I wasn't overly impressed with this book. It is set during the gold rush days but the two brothers come off like they should be English professors rather then two hired killers. The details were not very realistic - particular about the state of dentistry in the 1850s. I read the book, just didn't enjoy it all that much.
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on October 6, 2014
Though this novel is quite different from the other books I have reviewed, which tend to belong to the fantasy genre, I nonetheless was intrigued to read it, because of three things: the bizarre cover, the awards it has won, and descriptions I had heard about its graphic depiction of violence.

Actually, fantasy readers might like this book because it is a fine work of genre fiction: that is to say, the Western. Westerns follow many of the romance conventions that inspire fantasy novels. Just as Sir Lancelot rides into castles, performs deeds for the king, wins fame and fortune, and rides out, back on his quest for the Holy Grail, Charlie and Eli Sisters, the protagonists of DeWitt’s novel, have multiple side-adventures.

Their quest is to fulfill their contract for the mysterious man named the Commodore, by murdering the prospector Hermann Kermit Warm. But then they begin to question the moral nature of their violent and dangerous job…
The adventures the two Sisters brothers may appear to be random, but in midst of the grit and melancholy of the Old West, little insights into the human condition surface, glowing like pieces of gold dust in a mighty California river.
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on June 1, 2016
Good easy read even for readers who do not like cowboy stories. The brothers are very likeable and the character study of their personalities make the story interesting. A good summer read easy to put down and pick up. The last 2 thirds of the book is probably the highlight of the book and will keep you turning pages until you finish the story.
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on January 4, 2014
In this off-beat Western two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, are hired to kill Herman Kermit Warm, a man who may have stolen money from their ruthless boss, although they don’t worry too much about the reason they have to kill him. They’re hired killers, and so they set out to do what they’re hired to do. Charlie is the nastier, quick-tempered one of the two brothers, while Eli, the narrator, maintains a bit of optimism about humanity, although he’s just as ready as Charlie to kill whoever gets in his way.
The story takes them on a search for Warm during the California Gold Rush, and on the road they meet the expected unusual cast of characters: Indians, witches, barflies, and so on. The details are rich, the commentary by Eli is sometimes touching, and even humorous, despite the violence in the book. As we get to know Eli we come to feel that he and his brother are prisoners in a jail of their own making, knowing nothing else but violence and life in the wilds. Eli, at least, would be happier doing anything else for a living, but he is fiercely loyal to Charlie, no matter what the other does.
A revisionist Western, in some ways, exploring stereotypes and turning them inside out, but far from plodding or preachy. The book keeps you reading to find out what sort of mischief the two brothers will get into next, all the while wondering if there will be redemption for either of them at the end, or if they will face a reckoning for the choices they’ve made. Definitely worth reading.
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on January 19, 2012
A beautifully written evocative tale. But I didn't like it. The dialogue and interior monologues are witty and intuitive, the descriptions are fantastic but as a story, I didn't care for it much. As other reviewers have stated, there is a lot of violence in this tale and my stomach turned with the treatment of the horse. The book is about a long journey and the return to home as many books are but in the end I felt "so what." I would read this author again as he is indeed talented, maybe it was just a case of the subject matter not being to my taste.
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