“I was reaching for my pistol when Charlie stepped from behind a tree and casually shot the prospector as he ran past. It was a head shot, which took the back off his skull like a cap in the wind. I dismounted and limped over to the twitching body. My leg was stinging terribly and I was possessed with a rage.”
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is a western about about two infamous hitmen brothers named Charlie and Eli Sisters (the Sisters brothers….get it?) who are ordered by their boss to travel to San Francisco to kill a guy.
Told from the first-person point-of-view of one of the brothers, this disturbingly violent, darkly funny road trip story feels like a Coen Brothers movie populated by the insane side characters of Red Dead Redemption. The dialogue and events are realistic, but with just a touch of the absurd to even the most seemingly mundane interactions. There is a propulsive, cinematic pace to the action, with the brothers dealing with some obstacle (usually violently) every short chapter, typically while bickering with each other.
While certainly entertaining, The Sisters Brothers is no simple pulp adventure tale. It was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world. Don’t be intimidated by this literary acclaim. Unlike the stylistic techniques used by other critical darlings like Cormac McCarthy, the language in this novel is clear, plain, and easy-to-read.
The complexity of the book comes from the characterizations of the brothers. Are they good? Bad? Bit of both? How do they really feel about each other? What are their stated goals, intentions, dreams, desires? How do those conflict with their employment, habits, and actual actions/reactions to events? What is the true nature of someone: what a person believes or what a person does? Can that nature change? Those are just some of the questions that a reader (and book clubs) may grapple with while reading this novel.
This is an absolutely fantastic book. Any reader who appreciates good writing — not just fans of the western genre — should enjoy it. I highly recommend it.
Rating: 5 stars