Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

This was a fun twist on your typical Western. The Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli, are hired guns. They work for a fellow known as The Commodore and The Commodore has asked them to go to California to track down and kill a man by the name of Hermann Kermit Warm.

The book is narrated by Eli, the younger brother, and the more thoughtful of the pair. Eli is overweight and sometimes seems like he may be viewed as the lesser intellect of the brothers. Eli is clearly the conscience of the twain and wants nothing more than to return home to his mother and open up a hardware store. Charlie, though, wants to be rich and powerful. He dreams of one day supplanting The Commodore. He also enjoys killing because he's mighty good at it (and drinking).

As the duo make their trek towards Sacramento where they are to meet an associate who is watching Warm, they have numerous encounters with an interesting cast of characters. The reactions to these encounters, especially those of Eli, are what make the book so good.

Perhaps some of what makes Eli seem a little light on the intellect side is the writing style of the book. It is very simple. DeWitt finds a good balance between making Eli seem uneducated (and hired guns during the Gold Rush Era aren't going to have degrees from St. Olaf's) but doesn't try and over do it and make him a caricature. But his apparent lack of intellect may also be due to a bit of naivete. At one point he falls for an innkeeper, giving her a good deal of money and dreaming of one day returning to her and making her his wife. Meanwhile, she's had sex with Charlie which Charlie paid for along with his bath.

Upon finding the associate and Warm, they are faced with a conflict that involves them going against The Commodore which results in a bit of an unexpected ending.

The contrast between the two brothers is nice even if they are a little too polar opposite for my liking. The story being told exclusively by Eli also makes things a little too limited. I liked how pretty much every scenario the brothers face results in some sort of moral and ethical analysis. Deep thinking by hired killers....whoda thunk it?

It was a really fun book and one I recommend but it falls short of the top echelon of books for the year.

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