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The Sisters Brothers: A Novel Hardcover – April 26, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Dewitt's bang-up second novel (after Ablutions) is a quirky and stylish revisionist western. When a frontier baron known as the Commodore orders Charlie and Eli Sisters, his hired gunslingers, to track down and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm, the brothers journey from Oregon to San Francisco, and eventually to Warm's claim in the Sierra foothills, running into a witch, a bear, a dead Indian, a parlor of drunken floozies, and a gang of murderous fur trappers. Eli's deadpan narration is at times strangely funny (as when he discovers dental hygiene, thanks to a frontier dentist dispensing free samples of "tooth powder that produced a minty foam") but maintains the power to stir heartbreak, as with Eli's infatuation with a consumptive hotel bookkeeper. As more of the brothers' story is teased out, Charlie and Eli explore the human implications of many of the clichés of the old west and come off looking less and less like killers and more like traumatized young men. With nods to Charles Portis and Frank Norris, DeWitt has produced a genre-bending frontier saga that is exciting, funny, and, perhaps unexpectedly, moving. (May)
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“Patrick deWitt’s Booker-nominated tale of two hired guns during the Gold Rush, is ‘weirdly funny, startlingly violent and steeped in sadness,’ according to Ron Charles.” (Washington Post)

“[A]n odd gem...that has one of most engaging and thoughtful narrators I’ve come across in a long time....The novel belongs to the great tradition of subversive westerns...but deWitt has a deadpan comic voice and a sneaky philosophical bent that’s all his own.” (Tom Perrotta's Favorite Fiction of 2011 on Salon.com)

“This bloody buddy tale of two hired guns during the Gold Rush is weirdly funny, startlingly violent and steeped in sadness — a reaffirmation of the endurance of the Western.” (Notable Fiction of 2011, Washington Post)

“DeWitt’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS is a glorious picaresque Western; everything about this book is stylish, from its conceit to its cover design making it a truly worthy inclusion on the shortlist.” (Daily Beast)

“If Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor, he might have concocted a story like Patrick DeWitt’s bloody, darkly funny western THE SISTERS BROTHERS...[DeWitt has] a skillfully polished voice and a penchant for gleefully looking under bloody bandages.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Thrilling…a lushly voiced picaresque story…so richly told, so detailed, that what emerges is a weird circus of existence, all steel shanks and ponies, gut shots and medication poured into the eyeholes of the dying. At some level, this too is a kind of revenge story, marvelously blurry.” (Esquire)

“[T]here’s something cinematic about Mr. deWitt’s unadorned prose style, which at first made this reader do a double-take—can this be serious?—only to continue flicking the pages with pleasure.” (Wall Street Journal)

“By turns hilarious, graphic and meditative, The Sisters Brothers hooked me from page one all the way to 300 — and I could have stayed on for many more.” (NPR.org)

“Wandering his Western landscape with the cool confidence of a practiced pistoleer, deWitt’s steady hand belies a hair trigger, a poet’s heart and an acute sense of gallows humor…the reader is likely to reach the adventure’s end in the same shape as Eli: wounded but bettered by the ride.” (Time Out New York)

“A feast of delights in short punchy chapters.... Deliciously original and rhapsodically funny, this is one novel that ropes you in on page one, and isn’t about to ride off into the sunset any time soon.” (Boston Globe)

“Mesmerizing… The book seduces us to its characters, and draws us on the strength of deWitt’s subtle, nothing-wasted prose. He writes with gorgeous precision about the grotesque: an amputation, a gouged eye, a con in a dive bar, a nauseating body count [without] macho brutishness.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“DeWitt’s exploitations of the picaresque form are striking, and he has a wonderful way of exercising his comic gifts without ever compromising the novel’s gradual accumulation of darkness, disgust, and foreboding.” (The Millions)

“A gorgeous, wise, riveting work of, among other things, cowboy noir….Honestly, I can’t recall ever being this fond of a pair of psychopaths.” (David Wroblewski, bestselling author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)

“Like Tarantino, deWitt knows that attitude makes blood funny; like Twain, he understands a reader’s willingness to forgive a good narrator’s personal flaws.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“[THE SISTERS BROTHERS] is full of surprises, among them…is the quirky beauty of the language Patrick deWitt has devised for his narrator.... THE SISTERS BROTHERS is deWitt’s second novel…and is an inventive and ingenious character study. It will make you impatient for the third.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Original, entrancing and entertaining.” (Denver Post)

“Weirdly funny, startlingly violent and steeped in sadness… It’s all rendered irresistible by Eli Sisters, who narrates with a mixture of melancholy and thoughtfulness.” (Washington Post)

“The brothers’ punchily poetic banter and the book’s bracing bursts of violence keep this campfire yarn pulled taut.” (The Onion AV Club)

“Funny and strange [and] oddly warm…you’ll find yourself ashamedly pulling for the brothers Sisters like you did for Jules and Vinnie in Pulp Fiction.” (Outside magazine)

“Patrick deWitt’s narrator--a hired killer with a bad conscience and a melancholy disposition--is a brilliant and memorable creation.” (Tom Perrotta, bestselling author of Little Children)

“A bright, brutal revision of the Western, The Sisters Brothers offers an unexpected meditation on life, and on the crucial difference between power and strength.” (Gil Adamson, author of The Outlander)

“At once dark and touching, The Sisters Brothers has something on every page to make you laugh. Patrick deWitt has given us a gift, reimagining the old west in a thoroughly original manner. Readers are all the better for it.” (Charles Bock, New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Children)

“…gritty, as well as deadpan and often very comic…DeWitt has chosen a narrative voice so sharp and distinctive…it’s very narrowing of possibilities opens new doors in the imagination.” (New York Times Book Review)

“A masterful, hilarious picaresque that keeps company with the best of Charles Portis and Mark Twain, The Sisters Brothers is a relentlessly absorbing feat of novelistic art.” (Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062041266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062041265
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (803 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Where to begin? The Sisters Brothers is without a doubt one of the most original and engaging books I've picked up in awhile. After reading, and thoroughly enjoying Mr. DeWitt's debut novel "Ablutions," I was looking forward to reading this.

"Ablutions" is a brief fantastic story of a barman who works at a downtown LA dive. Told in the second person, it mines similar terrority as Denis Johnson and Bukowski, but with a fresh and inventive narrative. For some reason, I expected "The Sisters Brothers" to be more of the same. Another tale of the down and out, the hopeless and deranged. Patrick DeWitt has grown leaps and bounds since his debut and gives us something unique - a good old fashioned Western that rips along like a horse set loose from the corral for the first time in years.

This novel bends genres and acheives something greater than just being a Western. In fact, the story itself is something universal, it just happens to be set during the early days of the gold rush.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are two hired guns sent to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. They don't question why he has to die, they simply follow orders. The journey to find Warm is a large portion of the book and allows us the chance to see how different Eli and Charlie are from each other. Charlie is brutal and selfish, a cold hearted killer with vicious instincts, while Eli is a bit softer, open to the beauty in life - or at least the possibility of finding happiness someday.

Eli narrates the story with thoughtful observations and through him we begin to understand the complicated relationship between the two brothers.

I read this book in a storm over two nights.
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Format: Hardcover
This deWitt is someone to watch out for. Liked his first, Abulutions, although I had an acquaitance going through the DTs and rehab just about the time it came out; deWitt was a bit too spot on for me, given the timing. Now here comes a book that...well...how do people come up with this wildly imaginative, unique, witty characters, plotting, tone? The novel is episodic, but hangs together well. There is a bit of archetypal skeleton under the book: quest into new territory by protagonist(s), allowing for new experiences, encounters, growth into self, some moral decisions to be made, and then return in the aftermath. There is a fun-house hall of mirrors similarity here to McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. This novel is darkly comedic though. I've hit a string of books recently that have had interesting style, but predictable plot...once you get down the literary tricks and style (when I start a book I like to immerse myself into it...read the first 1/3 to 1/2), no need it seems to finish; just read the last couple of pages to confirm what you already suspected. Not here. Great wedding of plot to style to imaginative twists and turns. The book gets even stronger as you go along. One of the highlights of the year so far in reading for me. If deWitt has staying power he'll be his own version of Delillo or Stanley Elkins; I really, really hope this is so.
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Format: Hardcover
The Sisters brothers are a couple of hired killers, not much bothered by pesky scruples, and are employed by a man with even fewer scruples. They are headed to Gold Rush country in the 1850s, sent to kill a thief, no questions asked.

Eli, the less violent of the two, tells us his story, and does it in wonderful, formal language of the times. I really liked Eli despite his considerable shortcomings.

As advertised, this book is filled with some very dark humor and terrific, quirky characters. I really enjoyed reading about the brothers' travails, about Eli's very enthusiastic introduction to toothbrushes and toothpowders, his almost compulsive desire to get rid of his money, and his attempts at romance.

Given that, if you are an animal, you don't want to be anywhere near the Sister brothers - it is a given that things will go horribly wrong. I really, really liked Tub, a long-suffering horse. Don't get me wrong: people don't fare any better, and there is more than enough gruesome description to go around. It's just that I really hate to read about animal cruelty so that unexpected theme made it less enjoyable for me. All in all, if you are very sensitive to reading about bad things happening to good animals even when you know it's fiction, you might want to skip this one. For everyone else, it is a fun, odd, escapist read.

Thank you to ECCO for giving me an uncorrected proof copy of this book.
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I wanted to love this book. It jumped off of my pile of shortlisted Booker Prize nominees and demanded to be read first. Everything about it shouted "Yes, it's literature, but IT's FUN." The premise is that of a classic picaresque novel -- Charlie and Eli Sisters, two professional assassins in 1850 are sent by their employer to hunt down and kill Herman Kermit Warm who may, or may not, have stolen something. In the course of their journey from Oregon to California, at the height of the gold rush, they meet a panoply of misfits and losers who provide a steady stream of often humorous incidents that help to explicate the brother's relationship. Add to this set-up, a narrative voice, provided by Eli, the younger of the two gunslinging brothers, Eli, that has a deadpan simplicity that is oddly appealing. And, it is worth noting, it has the best cover I've seen in a long time.

With so much going for it, why doesn't Patrick deWitt's novel deliver? Ultimately it is a failure to integrate the disparate events into a cohesive plot or arc for character development. Things happen and some of them are funny, but they don't lay the groundwork for growth in Eli's character that the form demands. It doesn't help that once the brothers find their target that the plot twist that leads to the climax of the book is singularly flat and generates no tension. It also didn't help that there are historical incongruities (particularly around the state of dentistry) that are jarring and out-of-place. Even in a story that in no way purports to be realist, realistic details would help to sustain the truth that can be found in absurdity. deWitt is a talented writer, and while I don't think he shouldn't win the Booker for this outing, I do look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
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