The Sisters Brothers (CBR10 #42)

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I have an enormous backlog. My Goodreads account tells me as of today, I have 649 books on my Want to Read shelf. I still have 62 that I added on the day I joined, January 6, 2012 during my first year participating in Cannonball Read 4. What better book to knock off the Backlog square than something I was introduced to in my first week of Cannonball Read and has been languishing for more than six years on Mount TBR (and also has a movie adaptation coming out later this month).

The Sisters Brothers of the story are Charlie and Eli. They are infamous mercenary killers traveling the 1850s Gold Rush west, hunting down the enemies of their boss, the Commodore. Their reputations precede them and the mention of their names makes people pay very close attention because no one survives when Charlie and Eli draw their weapons. Through them we have deWitt building a story about the nature of greed and the illusion of dreams and what is sacrificed to both.

The story is told by Eli, the younger of the two who has been following older brother Charlie’s lead since they were kidsyoung. Eli, however, is getting tired of life as a paid assassin and thinks it might be nice to settle down, run a store, and have a family. But they’ve got an assignment from the Commodore, so there’s not much he can do right now except for dream. The book follows the brothers from Oregon City to San Francisco as they seek out their latest target, and Eli is working towards this being their last target.

The predicaments they find themselves in as they travel towards then man they are supposed to kill are studies in the two different personalities of Eli and Charlie, how they see and interact with the world, and what those interactions cost them. Where Eli spends pages with his mind spinning out romance and back story of what was and will be, Charlie takes half a moment to figure out where he can get his most basic of needs met. The reader is left with the feeling that for every one of Charlie’s thoughts, Eli has one hundred, and very little of them have to do with reality in front of them. Eli’s life is in his mind, and Charlie’s life is the gun in his hand.

I appreciated the portrayal of the West and life therein. Patrick deWitt is riffing on the classic Western structure, and while I wasn’t completely sold on the “comic tour de force” the blurb was trying to sell, this is a book that is willing, wanting, and able to unpack the absurdity of life.  It doesn’t villainize nor romanticize violence, the old west, or the life of an outlaw but rather those components become well-rounded characters in their own right. Many characters are not human, and the horse Tug, who represents the relationship between man and nature and how man tends to destroy the latter, is integral in the growth of Eli.

While I’m not using this for my Snubbed square, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, and I found it to be a much more cohesive and engaging book than that year’s winner The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes so if you’re looking for a choice for that square, I can suggest this one for you.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.


About Katie

Museum professional, caffeine junkie, book lover, student of history, overall goofball.

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