Friday, January 06, 2012

Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers
Patrick deWitt
336 pages
Ecco Press
Published April 26, 2011

As it turns out, I love westerns.  I especially love westerns with wonderful covers.  Go ahead and click on that image, make it big and just soak it in.  This was probably my favorite book cover of 2011.

But it's not all about covers and pictures.  There were words on the pages between those pieces of cardboard.  The words were nearly as good as the cover.  Apparently I'm not the only one who thought so since The Sisters Brothers was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are a murderous pair of hired killers that have been sent by their boss to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm.  On their journey, the brothers run into wide cast of characters and leave death in their wake.

We see the action through the eyes of Eli.  He is the more introspective brother, less interested and certainly less enthusiastic in killing than his brother Charlie.  But despite Eli's "aw shucks" persona, he is as deadly as his brother.  Most importantly, Eli loves his brother and balances Charlie's boozing and recklessness with his quiet sadness.
I felt two things at once: A gladness at this turn of fortune, but also an emptiness that I did not feel more glad; or rather, a fear that my gladness was forced or false. I thought, Perhaps a man is never meant to be truly happy. Perhaps there is no such a thing in our world, after all.  
The Sisters Brothers is a picaresque novel (look it up) and the brothers find themselves in a variety of situations, some bizarre and some heart-breaking in their own way.  In fact, the more I think about it the more I see the book as collection of stories that make up the brothers' journey to San Francisco.  It flows smoothly, but like all good yarns, each story could stand on its own.

I can't even begin to say how much I love this book.  Since we're always hearing Eli's thoughts, it's as if the entire book is an endless dialog between Eli and the reader.  And you can't help but love Eli and want him to find happiness and peace.  I've seem The Sisters Brothers compared to True Grit and I guess it does share  some similarities in tone.  But there's also something so original about this book that transcends genre and forces itself into your head.  These are my favorite kind of books.

I had highlighted so many parts of the book that I'm having a hard time picking just one more to illustrate the tone and humor in the writing.  I guess I'll leave you with this example of deWitt's ability to be funny even as he splashes his scenes with violence.
“What was that noise?” he asked.
‘That was a bullet going into you.’
“A bullet going into me where?’
‘Into your head.’
‘I can’t feel it. And I can’t hardly hear anything. Where’s the others?’
‘They’re lying next to you. Their heads have bullets, also.’
‘They do? Are they talking? I can’t hear them.’
‘No, they’re dead.’
Rating: 9/10
Book source: purchased

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