29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2011
Set in 1851 right in the middle of the California gold rush, the novel tells the story of two infamous brothers Charlie and Eli Sisters who set out on a mission by the commodore from Oregon City to apprehend and kill Hermann Kermit Warm.
The chapters are short and the pace is brisk as the brothers drink, swear, trick and shoot their way west in pursuit of their quarry encountering a witch, an orphan and a prospector gone mad in the solitude of his work.
The narration of Eli Sisters is in a evocative cowboy patter and the description of the fairly frequent violence is vivid the effect being to put you in the saddle as they slaughter their way across the west toward California but it's not for the feint-hearted.
It's an entertaining yarn, the relationship between the younger Eli and the elder Charlie is an intelligent mix of admiration, jealousy and competition and the vivid prose is a real highlight. It is very light reading and I went through it in a couple of days without really trying. My judgement is that it's good but not booker good and I can't see this one getting through to the longlist.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2012
The publishers review reads 'Patrick] DeWitt has produced a genre-bending frontier saga that is exciting, funny, and perhaps unexpectedly, moving', however I found this book was not the least bit exciting, rarely funny, hardly moving and yes... unexpected in a weird sort of a way. I am reminded that when a book comes with a long list of awards it is hardly ever a really good read. Some parts of the book were quite gruesome and the rest was mostly just boring. I did finish reading the book, and the last part of the book centered around a rather unique idea (regarding gold prospecting) but it was not a book that I would recommend to anyone.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the strangest and wildest novels I have ever read. With all its twists and turns and bizarre outcomes, I don't know how to classify it other than to call it a modern spoof about the legendary West, encased in an anything-goes, cowboy style. While one part of me finds the adventures of two hell-raising brothers bent on doing their thing as hired guns a compelling and a sometimes amusing read, another part takes issue at the often awkward and loose way in which they are told. The account of Eli and Charles as gun-touting, adventure-seeking hitmen doing the bidding of a local `mafia' boss comes with plenty of peculiarities that make it fast-paced, unpredictable and something larger than life. One, complicating the lives of these two murderous bounty-hunters is that Eli and Charles are brothers who really care for each other, a quality that one doesn't generally associate with contract killers. Two, their quest appears to be a never-ending journey into the wilds of the Oregon Territory to kill someone they have never met. The reader will take three-quarters of the book to discover who their quarry really is. Three, along the way, obstacles will emerge that require both ingenuity and good fortune to overcome and stay the course. Four, in the end, our two gunslingers will accomplish their mission only to realize that the venture has been so much more than originally anticipated. Decent men and women have been killed; trust has been broken; and life has virtually been taken to the edge. On all these points, deWitt has done a reasonable job in composing a readable novel. But, in creating this torrid-paced, thriller of a novel, the author may have taken some significant literary short-cuts to get art to imitate life. For instance, the story hurls ahead with breath-taking speed as it tries to wow the reader with a big-moment, crazy story. What results in the end is a plot that has too many gaps, too many improbable moments, and too many stock characters. Throw in the extensive use of the modern idiom and you have a novel that, while imaginatively conceived, is poorly planned and rendered. In no way, does it even remotely come close to being in the same league as Cervantes' "Don Quixote".
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.
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.
on July 24, 2012
After all of the hype surrounding this novel (especially in Canada; I don't know about other countries) I had expected something more stunning. What I found was a well written and entertaining piece of fiction; however, it lacked the depth of a truly great novel. In great novels I find myself pondering themes and ideas presented throughout the course of the book long after I have flipped the final page. The Sisters Brothers never progressed beyond a fun, adventure story, and while I enjoyed it for what it was meant to be, I disagree with anyone heralding it as a great piece of literature. It is much better than most of the worthless fiction that adorns the tables of bestsellers in Chapters and Coles, but it is just a good book, and not a great one.
The story centers on Eli and Charlie, two very strong protagonists, and though they are the perpetrators of cruel and violent acts, they still retain the sympathies of the reader. Much like the heroes of the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, these are violent, cold men who make a living by their penchant for killing. DeWitt places these hardened killers into a world of rough and evil men, a world where human life has little meaning and the "good" characters are really no better than the "bad" men that they kill.
Eli is the narrator of the story, and as the gentler of the two brothers, he serves as a buffer between the reader and the drunken, hardened Charlie. Eli dislikes his current profession and continues in it only through a sense of loyalty to his older brother. He is a very well fleshed out character, vastly different than the typical lean, cool gunslinger of Leone's films, and instead an overweight and surprisingly sensitive fellow. Although he is fat, Eli does not degenerate into a mere comedic farce of a character, humouring the audience as he tries to be heroic; he manages to still be a completely serious and sympathetic character. His weight problem serves to add to the gritty, realistic effect of the novel by showing that not all deadly fighters have to be romantic. This is further shown through Charlie, for even though he is more of the cold, deadly, and lean gunslinger than his brother, his image is undermined by the fits of alcohol binging that he resorts to in between killings to drown away his turbulent conscience. A character like Clint Eastwood's Man with no Name in any of Leone's films is shown only as a romantic figure; the adverse effects of his lifestyle are never revealed to the audience. Charlie's drunkenness and self loathing undermine his romantic image and add a layer of gritty realism to the role of a gun-slinging hit man.
Although the characterization is excellent, the actual plot of the novel is very average. It is more of a roaming adventure story than a seriously plot driven novel. This does not have to ruin a book, for many superb novels are not equipped with gripping plots, but what they lack in plot they usually atone for with a fascinating and deep insight into life. For example, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway has no real plot and merely follows the activities of several characters throughout the course of a single day in London, yet it remains a great novel for her ingenious insight into human nature, and the way in which she examines the universal sense of loneliness felt by all of her characters. DeWitt, on the other hand, does not have a particularly deep insight into any facet of life; therefore, the lack of a strong plot is keenly felt. The plot that he does have is decent and is interesting enough to keep the reader hooked, but it is not enough to qualify the novel for any accolades in the realm of great literature.
Overall, I consider The Sisters Brothers to be a good book and worth reading, but I cannot recommend it too highly. In the future, I will probably give deWitt another chance with his next novels; only now, I will know exactly what to expect.
on August 28, 2012
I was instantly drawn into the narrative by Eli’s directness and the 19th century Western dialect. He is accused by other characters of having poetic tendencies, and this is true. I found his relationship to Tub -- his inadequate and eventually blinded horse -- touching. Tub is the lesser horse (compared to Eli’s brother’s horse Nimble) in the same way that Eli is the lesser killer (compared to his sociopathic brother Charlie). Eli’s feelings for Tub mirror his own self-doubt as well as his longing for kindness, understanding, and forgiveness.
The tale is nasty, brutish, and at times humouress. Many critics have mentioned a likeness to the Western stories of Elmore Leonard. Initially, I was reminded of Jesse Bullington’s “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart,” although early similarities disappear by the novel’s conclusion.
The cover design by Dan Stiles is amazing and enhanced my enjoyment of reading the trade paperback rather than an e-version.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2011
The Sisters Brothers is the story of Charlie and Eli Sisters, two brothers who work as hired guns for a man know only as The Commodore during the California gold rush. Now, if you’re not a fan of westerns, don’t let that stop you from giving The Sisters Brothers a read. I’m not a western fan, I mean I like Young Guns and after much convincing to actually watch it, I loved HBO’s Deadwood, but as a rule I shy away from them. Despite being a western with a set timeline, The Sisters Brothers has a timeless feel to it (as Carey pointed out in the Read With Me discussion). The characters are interesting and relate-able, but not always (or even often in the case of Charlie) likable, which I think adds to the realism of book and is what makes Charlie and Eli really well rounded characters.
Patrick DeWitt has a genuine talent for painting pictures with words. In fact, I found that the whole book read like a movie, as if I could really picture how everything would happen on screen as I was reading. I’m not sure if it would read like that for everyone, or if I had the idea of The Sisters Brothers as a movie on the brain as I was reading. Just before I read the book I found out that the film rights were purchased by John C. Rielly’s production company. The chapters in The Sisters Brothers are really short and the story is fast paced, which makes for a pretty fast read. If you’re looking for an interesting, well researched and compassionate book, The Sisters Brothers is for you! I highly recommend giving it a read, and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to read it before the movie comes out.
on April 1, 2013
Loved this book! It is Western style, but very original. One moment you like the character, and the next moment you're not so sure... which makes them all so very true to life. It is amazing what hard lives people had in the 1800's and what lengths they would go to in order to satisfy their greed. I was so sorry to reach the last page, and know I wouldn't hear more about Eli and Charlie. I saw this book a while ago, and the cover turned me off. For some reason the artwork contained on the cover and inside the book didn't suit the era of the book, to me at least, yet I really liked the artwork. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to stubble across anything that is original and compelling, and very human. My only regret is that no one I know has read this book yet, and I'd really like to talk about it with someone!