Friday, April 29, 2016

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Reviewed by Ambrea

In The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt chronicles the unfortunate misadventures of Eli and Charlie Sisters, the infamous Sisters Brothers who have made a name for their work as professional hitmen and guns-for-hire.  Now, working for a wealthy man known simply as the Commodore, Eli and Charlie are headed for Sacramento in search of Hermann Kermit Warm—and subsequently kill him and return what he’s stolen from his boss.

As they make their way to California, Eli begins to question their journey—he feels disinclined to kill Mr. Warm, unlike his more ruthless brother—and his brother’s motives for wealth and fame.  He wonders whether his life is the one he wants or the one he has been forced to take, and he wonders, can he ever separate himself from his brother and live the peaceful life he once took for granted?

DeWitt’s novel, to say the least, is not your traditional western.  Strangely compelling and slightly absurd, The Sisters Brothers is a literary oddity with a ring of truth to it that makes it simultaneously humorous and very, very dark and sometimes more than a little weird. If it has a heritage, it’s more like the old “spaghetti westerns” from Europe than, say, Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour. It's a western but there's just something a bit off-kilter.

More than a strange tale about a pair of bickering, violence-prone brothers, DeWitt’s book explodes with unique and off-kilter characters that are strangely likeable, like Eli, or entirely disturbing and revolting, like the Commodore.  Speaking of Eli, he’s probably the sanest individual in The Sisters Brothers.  He’s a compelling, heart-warming narrator with an interesting story to tell, a hatchet to bury, and a life of his own to live.  I probably liked him best because he had a streak of compassion that was totally lacking in his brother, Charlie, and pretty much everyone else.

Eli, more often than not, was the odd man out.

Arguably, DeWitt’s novel is very well-written, nicely paced, and genuinely suspenseful with intricate—if highly unusual—characters.  However, I will point out that I sometimes found The Sisters Brothers to be absurd or just plain weird and strangely melancholy, filled with murder, insanity, bloodshed, mayhem, foul language, and death.  It’s certainly not a typical western with the dashing, heroic duo overcoming insurmountable odds, rescuing pretty damsels, uncovering buried treasure in the desert or taking justice into their own hands.  Charlie and Eli are pretty ambivalent toward justice and the damsels involved are a little less pretty, a little more ruthless; honestly, they’re just a screwed up pair of kids who started in the wrong line of work.  While it isn’t exactly the most compelling story I’ve ever read,   it isn’t a bad book. It’s just not particularly exceptional.

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