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The Sisters Brothers Paperback – February 14, 2012
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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)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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)
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The story of Hermann Warm was more interesting than that of the Sisters themselves.
I did enjoy the book and was carried along by the narrating character, Eli Sisters, the younger and more thoughtful of the two brothers, and his takes on situations. Quirky is a good word for the characters, and poignant is good for how one might feel at the end. The book has sufficient plot twists to sustain interest along with a style of dialog that is, in its own way, almost charming at times. But don't expect humor or hilarity.
The Sisters Brothers is the tale of two brothers who murder people. They usually get paid for it but they randomly kill as they travel along when it suits their purpose or frame of mind; remuneration is not necessary. The author has developed two brothers with different outlooks on life; one is somewhat gentle and reflective, the other not so much. Neither hesitates to invoke punishment to those who look cross-eyed at them, but Eli has troubling afterthoughts while Charlie looks forward to the next encounter. They are hired by an ornery ball-buster in Oregon to travel to San Francisco and kill a man who "done him wrong," in the Old West vernacular. Their travel is long and tortuous, filled with odorous characters who lounge around looking for trouble, unwashed women, and the repulsive body functions of Charlie who can't stay away from the whiskey. I won't spoil the story of what they find when they reach their destination, but their journey is certainly worth the read.
The writing is clever and humorous in a droll way. The adventures are innovative and sure to keep the reader wondering what these two characters will get into next. The details are not for the weak of heart or stomach, but ring authentic for the time and location being described. Although DeWitt has whimsical writing down to an art, don't expect a light-hearted fairy tale here. It's the adult version of a Grimm Brothers fable. My only complaint is that the author abandoned what he does best and got too cerebral toward the end of the book. I wanted him to get on with it and return to the goofy brothers' walk through life.
This book will take you back to the days of the Wild West, although you won't find Roy Rogers and Gabby along the trail. Instead you'll more likely find vomit, a horse's eyeball, and residue from a mixture of toothpowder and spit. If you walk carefully around that stuff, you'll enjoy the journey.