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2012 Book Discussions > The Sisters Brothers - Epilogue & Entire Book, Spoilers Allowed (June 2012)

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message 1: by Mikela (new)

Mikela It is not a fantasy book but there are fantastic elements. How did the author use mysticism to heighten the action?


message 2: by Mikela (last edited Jun 01, 2012 10:31AM) (new)

Mikela Did you think the outcome for each character was just?


message 3: by Sara (new)

Sara (mewnbeauts) | 21 comments I just couldn't believe they stole so much. I kept thinking it would kick em in the assignment later on, but towards the end when they hadall that gold and cash I was really rooting for them. I was sympathetic bc of Eli. If charlie had been the narrator I wouldn't have felt bad at all.
In the end when Eli killed Rex and his ties with blind assassinations, I found the outcome just. While charlie lost a hand from all his greed, Eli took charge and severed ties with a life of constant running.


message 4: by Mikela (new)

Mikela The total reversal of roles between the brothers you could see coming. In the second intermission when the girl turned and walked away from Eli without answering his question about whether or not he was still protected was also telling.

They both lost all their money. Charlie lost not only his hand but his role as dominant sibling and bully as well as his self-confidence. Eli on the otherhand lost his dream of opening his store. To have had a dream and lost it is perhaps the hardest punishment but I'm glad that neither prospered in the end and just drifted into irrelevance.


message 5: by Mikela (new)

Mikela Would you recommend this book to others?


message 6: by Sophia (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments I wouldn't. Not unless they like the genre.


message 7: by Mikela (new)

Mikela I don't think I could properly guage the book - reading it to lead a discussion is very different (for me at least) than reading for pleasure. I know it won the Governor General Award plus some others but it wouldn't get a wholehearted recommendation from me. It has a lot of merit and while I liked it, I didn't love it.


message 8: by Sophia (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments It was short-listed for the Booker in this country. Many people liked it a lot. I knew it wasn't for me, but as I make a point of reading the short-list, every year - and most of the long-list too - I've only myself to blame (!)


message 9: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments I enjoyed the novel and found it to be fairly addicting once I started it. However, I don't know that I could recommend it to someone unless I knew what types of literature they read.

I've actually had a few people outside this group ask me about it and I've used the comparision to O Brother Where Art Thou for those who are curious. That seems to have piqued a number of individuals interests while also turning off a number of people from the book.


message 10: by Mikela (last edited Jun 05, 2012 12:34PM) (new)

Mikela Just think how the outcome would have been so different if rather than pursuing Warm they had contented themselves with the money they stole from Mayfield and simply retired. Although that was Eli's stated goal, we know from his discussion with his mother that tending a store really would not have suited him in the long run. Retirement would not have been worn well by Charlie either so it seems DeWitt gave us the only possible outcome other than the brothers being killed themselves.


message 11: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Very true. I can't really see Eli running a store on his own. Somehow something would occur that would lead to violence. Both of the brothers need someone that provides them structure and guidance. For most of their adult lives it was The Commodore and once that ran its course they both went back home to live under their mother's rules.


message 12: by Allen (new)

Allen | 23 comments Obviously, I would recommend the novel, since I did nominate it here :) I don't think it's a perfect novel, by any means, but I found it very interesting and complex theoretically. There is a lot of fodder here for masculinity studies, which is a burgeoning field in theory at the moment.

I've actually recommended the novel to people who do not read a lot and they have mostly liked it. Another reason I recommended it for reading here was it's inclusion on the Man Booker shortlist, which seems to be somewhat controversial.


message 13: by Mikela (new)

Mikela Allen, your suggestion that this book provides a lot of fodder for masculinity studies is a good one, and obviously not one that I have a great deal of personal experience with. It would be interesting to hear how you think this book could contribute to it.


message 14: by Mikela (new)

Mikela I have been racking my brains to put this book into a genre but am having difficulties here. Would you classify it as Western, Lit Fiction, General Fiction or some other classification?


message 15: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments I think just based on the fact that its so hard to classify I'm going to throw my vote in for Lit Fiction.


message 16: by Mikela (new)

Mikela That was my feeling as well but it's written so differently from other lit fiction books that I just couldn't be sure.


message 17: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Perhaps this is the birth of a new genre. That of Westernal General Lit.

: )


message 18: by Mikela (new)

Mikela LOL, way to go Jason - you passed the test as my official genre namer. Now you realize I'm going to come to you whenever I'm in doubt.


message 19: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Thank you, Mikela.


message 20: by Sophia (new)

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments *smiles*


message 21: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I'm still pondering the "genre" question. I don't read Westerns, so I do not know what is typical of the genre, , but I strongly suspect this is not it. It has a little bit of the feel of magical realism. I think the purpose for the Western setting was more that the "wild west" gave the author more freedom for his characters to engage in the type of activities they did. The Sisters Brothers are apparently widely known as successful killers, but they don't seem to have any lawmen on their trail. Through the book we see over and over that the strong survive, and the weak are out of luck.

This makes an interesting setting for the Eli character. I suspect that without Charlie, Eli might be one of the weak and harmless. He doesn't seem to be the sharpest tool in the drawer. I suspect his brains may have gotten a little fried the day he sat out in the sun as a child. He seems in some ways to be "damaged goods." Eli realizes at some point that he got into killing because other people were shooting at Charlie, and Eli will shoot at anyone to protect Charlie. Over time he has reached a point where he can kind of work himself into a killer frame of mind, when he is going into a situation that will involve shooting (such as the night they approach Warm's camp,pp. 246-247; but when Charlie points out the other killers coming, Eli kind of comes back to himself.) (from Chapter 48).

Any way, I don't think this book fits cleanly into any genre other than literary fiction. I think the setting is there to serve the author's purposes, more than because the author wanted to write a western.


message 22: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Too true, Casceil.

When you mentioned Magical Realism I thought, "That's it!" Then, I started thinking about it more and that doesn't really apply either.

That fact that it's hard to place in any particular category is one of its charms.


message 23: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments It didn't feel like genre to me. I need to think about this more. I just finished it, and I'm still discovering how I feel.

But I definitely don't feel like it was any genre other than literary fiction. It was set in the west, but I don't believe it was a western.


message 24: by Mikela (new)

Mikela You have no idea how relieved I am that others haven't immediately identified a genre for this book. That makes it extremely difficult to recommend to others based upon their preferred genre and I find myself thinking I short changed it, that it deserves a higher rating than I gave it. This book is unique enough to remember, even after reading several other books after it and isn't that a sign of a good book.


message 25: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I've been discussing this book with my husband, who is about half-way through it. He raised some interesting questions that I am going to have to think about. What is the author's point or purpose in writing this book? Is it just a story about bad men who do bad things for bad reasons, or are there conclusions the author wants us to draw? The various odd characters the brothers meet on the way, like the weeping man, and the old woman, and the little girl--are they gratuitous symbolism, or do they each have some kind of meaning? Anyone have any thoughts?

We also discussed the genre question. He felt that the writing was "informed by magical realism," but not the right tone to be classified as magical realism. He commented that it could also be characterized as historical fantasy, but that it wasn't really the right tone for that category, either.


message 26: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I have tracked down a couple of passages I referred to in an earlier post. On the subject of Eli realizing he became a killer to protect Charlie:

"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. I thought, How many times have I pulled my pistol on a stranger and fired a bullet into his body, my heart a mad drum of outrage, for the lone reason that he was firing at Charlie, and my very soul demanded I protect my own flesh and blood?"

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (p. 216). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

And from Chapter 48, Eli working himself up to possibly kill Warm:

"My very center was beginning to expand, as it always did before violence, a toppled pot of black ink covering the frame of my mind, its contents ceaseless, unaccountably limitless. 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? I began exhaling hotly through my nostrils, whereas Charlie was quiet and calm, and he made a gesture that I should also be quiet. He was used to corralling me like this, winding me up and corralling me into battle. Shame, I thought. Shame and blood and degradation."

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (p. 246). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

A couple of paragraphs later, Charlie sees the killers coming and gets Eli to snap out of it:

"Charlie suddenly clapped his hand on my chest to halt me. His eyes examined my eyes and he said my name searchingly; this removed me from the above-described mentality and returned me to the actual earth. ‘What?’ I said, frustrated, almost, by the interruption. Charlie held up his finger and pointed and said softly, ‘Look.’ I shook my head to awaken my true self and followed the line of his finger."

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (pp. 246-247). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


message 27: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Charlie held up his finger and pointed and said softly, ‘Look.’ I shook my head to awaken my true self and followed the line of his finger."

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (pp. 246-247). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


I may have missed, or forgotten, the remark Eli makes about awakening his true self. I need to think that comment over some. Thank you for pointing it out, Casceil.


message 28: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
More suggested answers for "what genre is this?" One reviewer called it "revisionist Western," which is actually a category of movies. I'm told there is a Wikipedia entry for "revisionist Western." Possibly my favorite description, though, came from yet another reviewer: "Cowboy Noir."


message 29: by Mikela (new)

Mikela I rather like Cowboy Noir, which seems to fit it well, while "revisionist Western" suggests to me a story or history that has been revised to fit an agenda or a new way of looking at history. But that's just my impression. We could, of course, compromise and call it "Western Noir".


message 30: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Cowboy Noir? I like the sound of that.


message 31: by Deborah (last edited Jun 18, 2012 05:38PM) (new)

Deborah | 983 comments Ok, I loved the book. I finished then started again.

So, when I voice this complaint, please know it's not an condemnation of the entirety.

I felt like there was a lot of set up, that never really resolved itself. The intermissions. The weeping man. The whole horse theme, which I think did a nice job of revealing things about Eli and drawing us to him, but failed to mean anything in the end.

I wonder if I developed expectations that the writer had not anticipated, or if he had ideas as he went that he later let go of.


message 32: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Deborah, I had the same feeling. I read the book twice, and the second time through I did pick up on things I had missed the first time, but I still feel like the author had grander ambitions that he failed to achieve. Some things come up so many times I think the pattern must mean something. Blindness, for example. The day Charlie shoots their father, Eli apparently stares at the sun long enough that he damages his eyesight and is blind for a couple of weeks. Tub loses an eye. Warm and Morris both lose their vision before they die. Charlie tells Eli that Charles was acting on the Commodore's instructions on an earlier job, when he blinded the victim and "left him in the dark" a while before killing him. The dark and the light both get used throughout the book in ways I think are intended to contrast good and evil. In the dream described by the girl in the intermissions, there is a swirling black cloud that she shares with the dead dog. In Eli's dream at the old woman's house, the old woman is pouring something black down Charlie's throat. The formula causes gold to glow, creating a "river of light" in which Eli is very happy until everything goes horribly wrong. And at the end of the book, when the brothers have reached their mother's house, there is a moment at the beginning of the last paragraph where Eli turns and looks back down the hallway toward the front door. "The front door hung open and presented me with a block of pure white light."

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (p. 324). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Eli goes on to say that he has "decided that my brother and I were, for the present at least, removed from all earthly dangers and horrors. And might I say what a pleasing conclusion this was for me."

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (p. 325). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

And that is the end of the book.

There are a lot of strong contrasts in the book. Even the title, "the Sisters Brothers" presents something that almost feels like an oxymoron. Then we have all the moral ambiguity in the story -- the contrasts when wrong seems right (killing in self-defense) and well-intentioned plans seem wrong (the way Eli handles the problem with Tub's eye). I feel like there is some larger message here I am just not quite getting.


message 33: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Casceil wrote: "Deborah, I had the same feeling. I read the book twice, and the second time through I did pick up on things I had missed the first time, but I still feel like the author had grander ambitions that..."

Intertesting, Casceil. When you quoted the last paragraph, "The front door hung open and presented me with a block of pure white light."

deWitt, Patrick (2011-04-26). The Sisters Brothers (p. 324). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

That made me realize that we have at least two significant doorways in the novel as well. The front door at the brothers' mother's house and the doorway at the cottage.


message 34: by Meera (new)

Meera | 0 comments Did you think the outcome for each character was just?
I felt sorry for Eli at the end despite feeling that they both didn't deserve a happy ending. I think that's from Eli being such a sympathetic character. I did feel sorry for Warm & Morris for their meaningless deaths. It was also good to see Eli finally being the more dominant brother as well. I do wonder though if they will settle into humdrum lives since they have a reputation and others of violent nature might seek them out.

Would I recommend this book? Maybe. If someone is looking for something different and they like violent historical fiction with a touch of magical realism. I didn't dislike the book but I didn't love it either. I was glad that it was a quick read and well written.


message 35: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I think there was a lot of justice in the outcome. When the brothers were robbed of their ill-gotten gains, and all they had left was the money in their boots that Eli had left as a gift for the bookeeper (which had been returned to him), I thought the justice of that was pretty pointed.

Would I recommend this book? I have, to several people, at least two of whom liked it. It is not to everyone's taste, but there is so much in it to think about. The author tells a very engaging story. When I heard the book described as "darkly comic," I did not expect to like it, but once I started reading the Kindle sample I was completely hooked.


message 36: by Ankit (new)

Ankit Sethi (sethi-san) | 1 comments Didn't anyone pick up on the homoerotic elements strewn here and there? I mean, I realized it pretty late in the book, but something just seemed a little fishy the way Warm and Morris' meetup in his diary was being described. I don't remember everything now, but I remember characters calling each other queer; there's a chapter which begins like: "Four men took off their pants at the same time."

I'm not saying they are gay, just that the author seems to be having some fun, putting out some double entendres here and there. Did anyone else notice something like this?


message 37: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments I did wonder if Morris and Warm had begun an affair.


message 38: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
There were plenty of homoerotic hints. Remember when Charlie & Eli were talking to someone who was supposed to have been Warm's partner, but got left behind? He really sounded like a jilted lover. It's been a while since I read this, and I can't remember the details very well now, but it did seem to me that Charlie had a particularly contemptuous attitude toward Morris (or maybe it was Warm) which I attributed to Charlie assuming the man was gay.


message 39: by Mikela (new)

Mikela Wow, I must be really dense, but in all honesty I didn't once get the sense that Morris and Warm had any type of relationship other than business and friends. I thought Charlie's contempt for Morris was due to Morris' side of the business (scouting but no "wet work") leaving the brothers to do the dirty work while Morris took the easy route. Am I just naive?


message 40: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
No, Mikela. It was all very subtle. I started noticing it more after my husband mentioned it. If you are looking for it, it's there, but nothing is ever spelled out in any obvious way.


message 41: by Mikela (new)

Mikela Thanks for allowing me to save face Casceil. Sometimes I need to be hit over the head with a 2x4 - too subtle totally eludes me.


message 42: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments I didn't think it was ... a plot point. Just a nuance. There was something about the interaction between Warm and Morris that seemed intimate.


message 43: by Mikela (new)

Mikela I have had many an intimate interaction with female friends yet not one of a physical love interaction. When two people are both totally committed to reach a mutually beneficial outcome (particularly when they must work in secrecy in order to obtain it) they do tend to have a certain interaction that could be termed intimate. On the other hand, I could be totally out to lunch on this and just plain fail to see what a few others saw.


message 44: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments Yeah, I wouldn't swear by it. It was an impression, but one that didn't feel crucial. Lovers. Not lovers. It doesn't really affect much.


message 45: by Mikela (new)

Mikela Now that we are moving on to our July read, I would really like to thank all of you that participated in our discussion of The Sisters Brothers and for making the whole leading discussion bit a lot less scarey for me. Your insights enabled me to view this book with perspectives that I would have totally missed out on if left on my own. So, thanks again, you guys are great!


message 46: by Jason (new)

Jason Baldwin-Stephens | 131 comments Mikela wrote: "Now that we are moving on to our July read, I would really like to thank all of you that participated in our discussion of The Sisters Brothers and for making the whole leading discussion bit a lot..."

Thank you for doing such a great job taking the lead with this Mikela.


message 47: by William (new)

William Mego (willmego) Yes, thanks! This certainly ended up being a very strong discussion with lots of comments. I'm delighted that you're leading a book in July as well.


message 48: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 983 comments You did a great job of it. And I really enjoyed both the book and the discussion.


message 49: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Thank you, Michela. You did a great job.


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