Jill's Reviews > The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
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Oct 10, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2011
Read from October 10 to 14, 2011

Meet Eli Sisters, the narrator of this genre-bending, riveting, highly original work by Patrick DeWitt.

A John Wayne he's not. In fact, he’s anything but. He and his brother Charlie comprise the infamous Sisters brothers, guns-for-hire who embark on a thrills-and-spills adventure to follow the commands of an enigmatic character called the Commodore, to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm.

The thing is, Eli Sisters has a moral complexity that his older brother lacks. He’s a tubby man who romanticizes the whores and cleaning women he runs into, in a sort of Don Quixote-ish way. He’s obsessed with his oral health after an unanticipated run-in with a would-be dentist educates him on the joys of the toothbrush. He loves his rundown one-eyed horse named Tub and goes to great lengths to make sure he doesn’t end up in the horse farm. And he’s determined that the killing of Kermit Warm will be his very last.

He muses, “It came over me all at once, then: 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.” Yet before a would-be murder, he observes, “My flesh and scalp started to ring and tingle and I became someone other than myself, or I became my second self, and this person was highly pleased to be stepping from the murk and into the living world where he might do just as he wished. I felt at once both lust and disgrace and wondered, Why do I relish this reversal to animal?”

As in any journey – and this one is a journey to redefine brotherhood and to define self – there are many adventures along the way. The Sisters Brothers encounter a hotel maven named Mayfield who treats them to a Dante’s inferno type of experience, and an entire gaggle of ne’er-do-wells and lusty women who play for our sympathy as well as our disgust.

Even though there are many comedic moments, The Brothers Sisters is not a comedy. For one thing, Patrick DeWitt never holds his characters up to ridicule; we end up really liking Eli Sisters for all his faults. In some ways, he rises to Every Man status – a man exploring an unpredictable terrain where danger lurks at every corner.

And while the novel pays homage to the Old West, the gold rush, and other legends of western America, it also stakes out its own territory. It’s gritty, inventive, distinctive, and unexpectedly moving.
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08/18/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes I tried reading this one a while back and for whatever reason found it unreadable, tossing it aside after a modest effort. I presume the flaw was mine.


Jill I'm surprised I liked it as much as I did, Will, because this genre is not usually my cuppa. Once I surrendered to the voice, things went fine. Sort of reminded me of the Coen Brothers...


message 3: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes I have mixed feelings re the Coens. I love some of their work and shudder at some other films. But I do know that even for those films of theirs that I admire, they can be an acquired taste.


Jill I've groaned at a few Coen Bros movies myself, but for the most part, I do like them. But you're right, it IS an acquired taste. And same with this book...


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