The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

28 Jun

So, this book has been waiting to be reviewed for ages. And it has nothing to do with the quality of this book. Or, actually, it does. It’s like a negative correlation: the better the book the harder it is for me to review it. Ah, first world problems.

What I’m trying to say is that this book is really good. It’s about these two brothers – Charlie and Eli Sister – who are basically hired guns in the mid-1800s. They are the de facto arm of the law in the western territories where state or federal government hasn’t really been established. I know what you’re thinking: vigilantes? No, fanks! But guys, these brothers don’t only answer to money or their boss. They operate under a higher and more sacred system: honor. You know when honor is involved, things get real. And quick.

So: these Sisters brothers are on their way West (near present-day California) looking for a gentlemen who has wronged their boss. And everywhere they encounter greedy-eyed cut throats in search of gold:

This perhaps was what lay at the very root of the hysteria surrounding what came to be known as the Gold Rush: Men desiring a feeling of fortune; the unlucky masses hoping to skin or borrow the luck of others, or the luck of a destination…To me, luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had to come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it. (115-16)

Because this is the gold rush and money is what it’s all about. And whores. There are plenty of those, too. So, a little something for everyone. Well played, Mr. DeWitt.

But in the narrative you learn that one brother – Eli – is tired of this life. He wants to do something productive, honorable, and stationary. Also, he’s just tired of killing people: “…I was not an efficient killer. I was not and had never been and would never be. Charlie had been able to make use of my temper was all; he had manipulated me exploited my personality, just as a man prods a rooster before a cockfight.” (216) Charlie, on the other hand, revels in the power it gives him and wants to move up in the field, possible becoming a boss himself some day: “…just as I longed for the organized solitude of the shopkeeper, so did Charlie wish for the days of continued excitement and violence, except he would no longer engage personally but dictate from behind a wall of well-armed soldiers” (122)

Despite this difference – and many others – between the two brothers, they agree they have to finish this job together. Then, perhaps, they will go their separate ways and do what is best suited for their dreams and personalities. And the commission from this job will make that possible. We got a real American Dream up in here!

Then, they hit a road block. Turns out that the guy they’ve been chasing down hasn’t really cheated their boss out of money. He just refused to share the secret behind a mechanism he invented to make finding gold dust in river beds easier. And this doesn’t sit well with the Sisters brothers, especially Eli: “I have never minded cutting down the Commodore’s enemies much, brother. It always happens that they are repellent in one way or other. Lesser villains, men without mercy or grace. But I do not like the idea of killing a man because of his own ingenuity.” (197) See what I’m talking about, guys? Honor!

Now the brothers have to decide: do they hang up their morals, make their boss happy, and go on to pursue their dreams? Or do they give up this dishonorable job, hide out to avoid their boss’s wrath, and give up on everything they’ve worked for?

What a pickle. A really good one with great writing.

4.5 out of 5 coffees.


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One response to “The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

  1. axl hazarikavevo

    July 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Your style is unique in comparison to other
    folks I have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when
    you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this site.


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