Amanda's Reviews > The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
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Oct 11, 13

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Read from December 26 to 30, 2012

I like reading about bad people in fiction. And, lest we jump to conclusions, it's not because I'm a bad person myself (at least not in the torture or kill people kind of way; no, the sins in which I dabble are much more pedestrian than that), but it's because I like peering into those dark little corners of their brains. And, what is often the most frightening and fascinating is when I find that, really, they're much more like me than I care to admit.

Take Pulp Fiction, for example, which may be my favorite movie of all time. Sure, you've got some of the old ultraviolence, but what's really chilling is to see how it's part of the average work day for Jules and Vincent. Their days are filled with conversations both philosophical and mundane, punctuated by acts of violence that they accept as part of how their world works. When we think of men who can kill, we think of monsters, depraved beings who have no moral compass, an inability to reason. While that is certainly sometimes the case, sometimes we find that--behind the monster--there is just a man, one who knows that what he is doing is wrong, but does it anyway: for money, for love, for power. And what worked for Pulp Fiction is what works for The Sisters Brothers.

Charlie and Eli Sisters are two of the most feared assassins in the West, working for a shadowy figure known only as "The Commodore." Charlie, the older brother, is ruthless and power hungry, while his brother, Eli, is a sensitive sort who is prone to violence when he becomes enraged--a tool often used by Charlie to his advantage. Even in adulthood, Eli is relegated to the archetypal role of the younger brother, haplessly following and obeying his older brother, while occasionally challenging Charlie just to see how far he can be pushed.

The brothers are sent by The Commodore on an errand to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, a prospector who has crossed The Commodore in ways unknown to the brothers. Not that it matters as their job is to kill and not ask questions. The journey there provides the brothers with adequate time to be attacked by a bear, run into a backwoods witch, visit a brothel, and encounter characters curious and strange. As the men travel, we see them banter back and forth, every bit true siblings, alternately needling each other's quirks and weaknesses and then engaging in profound conversations about their beliefs and shared history.

The dialogue between the brothers is the real treat of the novel--witty and peculiarly formal (think Charles Portis' characters as portrayed in the Coen version of True Grit). As he longs for love, worries about his weight, discovers the joys of dental hygiene, and wrestles with his disdain and admiration for his one-eyed, cantankerous horse, Tub, Eli Sisters is the more relatable of the two brothers. However, before one can become too attached to either character, a scene of needless and wanton violence reminds us that both of these men are killers and, for all the contemplation of human nature the two engage in, it proves as difficult to put down a gun as it is to pick one up.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder and at Shelf Inflicted
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Reading Progress

12/28/2012 page 115
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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Kevin Young Amanda. Just finished this one myself. Interested to see what you make of it.


Amanda Kevin wrote: "Amanda. Just finished this one myself. Interested to see what you make of it."

It is certainly different. I'm really enjoying the dialogue--especially the banter between the two brothers.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I like reading about bad people in fiction.

Ditto. Sounds like I need to read this book.

Have you read any Elmore Leonard? From what you said about why you like Pulp Fiction it sounds like you would enjoy his books.


Amanda Anthony wrote: "I like reading about bad people in fiction.

Ditto. Sounds like I need to read this book.

Have you read any Elmore Leonard? From what you said about why you like Pulp Fiction it sounds like you wo..."


Indeed I have--I really love Out of Sight and his Raylan Givens books. No one does snappy dialogue and quirky characters like Leonard. You know, now that you mention it, this is very much like a Leonard novel set in the West. I hadn't thought about that comparison.


message 5: by Kemper (new) - added it

Kemper it's not because I'm a bad person myself (at least not in the torture or kill people kind of way; no, the sins in which I dabble are much more pedestrian than that)

That's not what the people who escaped from your basement tell me...


message 6: by Kemper (new) - added it

Kemper Amanda wrote: "Anthony wrote: "I like reading about bad people in fiction.

Ditto. Sounds like I need to read this book.

Have you read any Elmore Leonard? From what you said about why you like Pulp Fiction it so..."


And of course the ultimate Elmore Leonard/Tarantino fusion is Jackie Brown.


Amanda Kemper wrote: "it's not because I'm a bad person myself (at least not in the torture or kill people kind of way; no, the sins in which I dabble are much more pedestrian than that)

That's not what the people who ..."


Shit! One of them got out? Someone's going to pay for this security failure! Since that person should probably be me, I think I'll go drown a bag of puppies instead and call it day . . .


message 8: by Kemper (last edited Jan 12, 2013 03:28PM) (new) - added it

Kemper Amanda wrote: "Shit! One of them got out? Someone's going to pay for this security failure! Since that person should probably be me, I think I'll go drown a bag of puppies instead and call it day . . ..."

They described it as being like a cross between one of the Saw movies and Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. Painful and terrifying, but not without its charms...


message 9: by Trudi (new)

Trudi Christ on a crutch, that last sentence is perfection from every angle.

Drown all the puppies you need to, but leave the kitties be.


Amanda Kemper wrote: "And of course the ultimate Elmore Leonard/Tarantino fusion is Jackie Brown."

I had never consciously made that connection--no wonder it's so awesome. That's one I need to go back and watch again.


Amanda Kemper wrote: "They described it as being like a cross between one of the Saw movies and Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. Painful and terrifying, but not without its charms..."

Nothing induces bowel-loosening fear like singing "Pure Imagination" to the sweet strains of a Husqvarna.


Amanda Trudi wrote: "Christ on a crutch, that last sentence is perfection from every angle.

Drown all the puppies you need to, but leave the kitties be."


Thanks! I'm glad because I felt a little thrill when I wrote that line and so I'm glad someone else liked it. And, never fear, the kitties are safe from me. There are some evil depths into which I will not plummet--kitty torture being among them.


message 13: by James (new)

James Thane Another good review, Amanda. Sounds like a fun book...


message 14: by Kemper (new) - added it

Kemper Amanda wrote: "Kemper wrote: "They described it as being like a cross between one of the Saw movies and Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. Painful and terrifying, but not without its charms..."

Nothing induces bo..."


I'll bet you do a mean Buffalo Bill imitation too: "It puts the lotion on it's skin or else it gets the weed whacker again!"


Michael Great review. I liked it too and agree with the affinities with Pulp Fiction. This doesn't seem to reach for the comic aspect in the same way however. Your confession of a guilty pleasure over intrigue with "bad" people makes me smile in recognition. Yet this doesn't quite enter the category of noir like so many books about bad people. All to the good in speaking to the freshness of this tale.

The Leonard connection is interesting. Was surprised myself that he wrote quite a few Westerns starting in the 50s. Didn't realize the movies "Hombre", "3:10 to Yuma", and "Valdez is Coming" were based on his novels.


Amanda James wrote: "Another good review, Amanda. Sounds like a fun book..."

Thanks! It is indeed.


Amanda Michael wrote: "Great review. I liked it too and agree with the affinities with Pulp Fiction. This doesn't seem to reach for the comic aspect in the same way however. Your confession of a guilty pleasure over i..."

I agree--it lacks Pulp Fiction's black humor. Most of the humor seems the indirect result of dialogue and the reader's ability to appreciate a wry turn of phrase. And I had completely forgotten about Leonard's incarnation as a Western writer. I've never read one and now I'm tempted to do so.


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