131. The Sisters Brothers (Patrick DeWitt)

Monday, February 13, 2012
I don't normally fall for the hype around best sellers, award winners and top 10 list makers.  It never seems to fail, the allure of those that make these types of lists always seem to elude me.  I don't generally find them particularly interesting, inspiring, or inventive and I tend to steer clear.  However, there was something about Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers that piqued my interest ever since I first heard about it.  I was intrigued despite the fact that it was a Governor General's Literary Award winner, a Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize winner, a ScotiaBank Giller Prize finalist, and a Man Booker Prize finalist.  Or perhaps it was because so many people found it so fascinating and that it had won or nearly won so many awards that I was drawn to it.  To top it off, it was a western.  The last book I remember reading that had even a remote "western" feel to it was the Little House on the Prairie series.

Here's the blurb from the book and website:

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

I loved the Sisters Brothers.

I loved it so much, I finished it in 2 1/2 days.

I loved it so much, I want to read it again.  Right now. 

While preparing to write this post, I came across this review from the National Post which pretty much sums up all of my own thoughts on this novel and provides a succinct summary of the plot so I won't bother to lay it out for you again.  Michael Christie notes in his review, "...it is in the small details of their day-to-day lives where the conventions of the Western are deliciously trampled. Sure, there are saloons, prostitutes, brawls and sneak attacks on the bad guy’s camp, but the Sisters brothers mostly battle the mundane. Hangovers, petty squabbles and misunderstandings. Choosing toothpaste flavours. Cooking food. Eating. Sleeping. Or even the-never-before-seen-in-a-Western casual masturbation to raise one’s spirits." The actual physical journey to carry out their job is secondary to the exploration of the brothers' relationship as they make their way to their final destination. I'm glad to read that the rights to the book have been picked up - I can only hope that if and when the movie version gets made, it does the book justice.

Eli's narration of the journey he and his brother Charlie take to carry out the Commodore's orders is almost lyrical.  It is only through his eyes that this story could be told with any sense or realism.  Charlie's point of view would be too stilted, too simple in its violence; and a third person narrative wouldn't be able to draw the reader deep into the brothers' relationship as Eli's voice manages to do.  Through his eyes and his words we feel his discomfort with his life, the often strained relationship with his brother and his underlying caring and compassion.

Reading the reviews on Amazon.ca, I was a bit worried about what the book would hold.  One review by Anglobotomy had me particularly puzzled.  The reviewer talks about reading several times that the narrator pleasured himself and numerous descriptions of his brother's genitalia.  What was I getting myself into? After finishing the book, I think Anglobotomy and I read two completely different books.  I only remember one time where either of those things were mentioned and both were brief.  There is certainly a good deal of violence and some horrible things happen to Eli's horse which might put some readers off but it fits within the storyline and the time frame/location where it takes place.

I HIGHLY recommend The Sisters Brothers and suggest you run out NOW (drop everything except babies and antique vases) and get yourself a copy.  I guess this means I'll have to start giving those award winning top ten list picks a little more attention...


sp said...

Sounds really good. I'm going to try and find it at the library.

If I drop everything right now, I'll have to close the store. Is it worth it? :)

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