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.
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).
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!
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.
on August 13, 2013
Loved this book! Picked it up to fill an hour or so on a Sunday afternoon and then couldn't put it down. Eli, an unlikely gunslinger, with his tireless search for love and deadpan humour, is an engaging character in an awkward predicament. Add to that the relatable family dynamic in his relationship with his brother Charlie, and I found myself immediately and completely pulled into the world of the Gold Rush and the Wild Wild West! Can't wait to see what DeWitt comes up with next.
Charlie and Eli Sisters have been commissioned by the Commodore to assassinate a prospector taking part in the California gold rush. They’re lightning fast on the draw and seemingly invincible even when outnumbered by competing killers. Yet Eli, the narrator of this story questions the lifestyle and desires a change. Encountering many nefarious individuals while seeking their fortune at every turn, the brothers are a continual source of entertainment to the reader. Charlie, the elder, is constantly pushing Eli into committing acts toward which he either feels ambivalence or moral discomfort. This is a terrific story told terrifically well.
on March 19, 2012
I am surprised that no one commented on the fact that Eli walked through the door adorned with the (seer)old women's trinkets, despite her chilling admonishment not to do so. Charlie didn't - too scared, but Eli did, because he needed to save Charlie. We all thought it was black magic, they were doomed. But it was the talisman that saved those hapless brothers. Defy fear, face and defy evil, and take care of your kin. They are the Sisters Brothers after all. And guess what? They made it out alive, they got home.
This is an amazing tale for today's times.
And I loved the dialect. So gentle, so powerful.
on January 6, 2015
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with some very intelligent killers, before I even mention
anything about this, the movie “Unforgiven’ rest on the same theme that this book delivers,
bad guys are beating up the hookers and cutting up there faces, but these two want to kill this
guy because he’s bad, I tell you, if you need any education or intelligence, (other than pronouncing
words and know how to read) you can figure this out, I will definitely stop writing reviews,
Wow, whatever they encounter in-between is extra gravy, I love this book and it’s so easy to read,
this book is a good read folks don’t let people pull that proverbial wool over your eye,
I wish all the people in the world were geniuses, then we can sit there and stare at each other,
“Read This Book You’ll Love It”
on January 8, 2013
I absolutely love this book. I brought it along when I was doing a little solo camping. I happened (by sheer luck) to have a small bottle of brandy with me, and if you know anything about this book, you'll know that was a very lovely fluke. I honestly can't remember the last time I had this much fun reading.
I finished it in one night, which is something I don't often do. I loved every page. I've lent it to four or five other people, who all have loved it as well. I'm not the "western" type, either.
Buy it. Read it. And if you happen to have a little brandy, use it.