Cannonball Read IV: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
This is the second review by someone who hasn't commented (or if so, infrequently) on Pajiba. Not all of our Cannonballers fit this profile, but we have a great deal of new folks joining in this year. You can too! There's always room for one more...until midnight on January 7, 2012. Registration for Cannonball Read IV is open until then. -- mswas
Well, folks, I come out of my Pajiba lurking to join you in CBR4. Commence public popping of review writing cherry!
The Sisters Brothers is a compelling, gritty, and almost poetically elegant narrative, as told by Eli Sisters, a henchman in the Oregon Territory circa 1850. The difficult part of this description is not the plot, nor the characterization, but the utterly bewildering sense that I loved the book- I simply HAD to finish it- but could not really explain why.
Eli Sisters, and his brother/leader, Charlie, are the kind of gunslingers I didn't see much of on TV. They aren't the heart-o'-gold types of cowboys (a la John Wayne), but more the sons-o'-bitches that surely roamed the Wild West. They are henchmen and killers "owned" by the Commodore, a Big Boss in Oregon City who calls the shots, orders the deaths of folks, and is really just kind of a gold and power-hoarding bastard. Charlie is the sociopathic lead of this duo: human life isn't worth much, gold is worth a lot, women are items to be used, and brandy is to be consumed literally ad nauseum. Eli is more tenderhearted and introspective, though no humanitarian by any stretch.
Eli has followed his brother into this life of killing almost by default; Charlie is family, so Eli has his back. Charlie treats him poorly- they have the older/younger brother relationship that never matured passed puberty- but it is through Charlie's interaction with Eli that we see the scenes unfold. The missteps the two go through to track down their latest prey are a combination of adventure, farce, bleak Western sensibility, humor, and mindless violence. I realize it doesn't sound like a combination that could ever work, but somehow it does.
I've heard other folks describe this book as a combination of "True Grit" and every possible written work. For my money, I would say "True Grit" meets "Brothers Bloom." It's an easy book to fall into, love for a night, and wake up confused by the devoted passion of your liaison, but content with your non-trivial, emotionally alarming, and fun romp.
This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.