Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Rating: 3 & 1/2 Stars
It’s almost a reflex reaction; anytime I think of the old West, I hear Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score whistling in my mind’s ear, and feel Clint Eastwood emanating his stubble-cheeked, squinty-eyed charisma. From this the reader should be able to discern that hitherto, I’ve only seen Westerns. Patrick DeWitt’s Booker-shortlisted, ‘The Sisters Brothers’, is my first introduction to the literary genre. I must say I enjoyed the sheer novelty of it.
In 1851, at the onset of the California Gold Rush, notorious gunslingers - Eli Sisters and his brother, Charlie - have been commissioned by the Commodore to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. The Sisters brothers set forth to Sacramento to finish the job. On the way, they meet gold prospectors, malevolent witches, spiteful children, whores, and all manner of tough customers in a series of incidents that are rivetingly surreal.
The two siblings make great character studies. Eli, wearying of his violent life, and looking for a peaceable alternative, tries to persuade his elder brother that it’s time to call it quits. Charlie, more of a natural-born killer than Eli, is reluctant to give up the only thing he’s really good at. They have their disagreements, but know all too well that in their line of work, a brother’s presence means the difference between dealing out death, and being at the receiving end of it.
The humor in this book is of the macabre sort, and goes nicely with the deftly sketched if, quixotic characters. It seemed to me that for a pair of hired killers, Eli and Charlie do spout off some mighty high-falutin’ dialogues; but as I said, I’m a novice to the genre, and can’t really comment on the book’s overall credibility as a Western. What stuck with me though were the brothers; DeWitt has created a pair of stone-cold murderers who are, dare I say it…endearing.
Related Reading:
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Carey won the 2001 Booker Prize with his wonderfully written version of the life and times of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous (infamous?) bushranger. Carey’s Kelly is a winsome character, and though the book may not be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, it's a literary tour de force.


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