Monday, April 23, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt

I didn’t manage to read a fluffier book. Instead, I chose the enjoyable The Sisters Brothers by Patrick De Witt. (The library let me know it was my turn. And I’m giving it a try on my ipad so I only have it for two weeks. I had to move it to the top of my TBR list.)

Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, this historical novel is a darkly comic (IMO more dark than comic) highly stylized, wonderfully written western. Set during the California Gold Rush, it tells the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, hired guns for a wealthy boss named The Commodore. The book is narrated by Eli, a simple man with a tender conscience and a quick temper, who longs for a more peaceful existence but knows nothing else but following after his older brother. They take care of each other. It seems that they love one another but don’t like each other very much. Charlie is a drunkard but is, presumably, the brains of the operation. Or maybe he’s just the more efficient killer. Eli needs to be goaded into doing the work.

Having completed one nasty bit of killing, the brothers are given their next assignment. They are to travel to San Francisco and murder a man named Hermann Kermit Warm, accused of stealing something from the Commodore. Whether the accusation is true or not is immaterial. The boys kill for a wage. They don’t ask questions.

They set off for San Francisco and have a series of adventures or misadventures along the way that mostly end badly for the people they encounter. The brothers are good at what they do even when they do it clumsily.

It is basically a story about nasty men doing horrible things and not feeling particularly remorseful about it. At first, despite the nice prose and being somewhat intrigued by the premise, I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest the time needed to venture along with these unlikeable men. As the story unfolds, they didn’t grow more likeable even as we see their odd vulnerabilities and their unwavering loyalty to one another that shows up in their actions if not their words. Backstory trickles in that explains, to some extent, but does not justify, their sociopathic behavior. I never did warm to any of the characters and that usually means I won’t like the book. But the plain fact of the matter is—before I was very far in to the book, I was hooked. I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s a curious adventure, peopled with unlikeable oddballs, but for some reason I was compelled to see how it ended. Kudos to Patrick De Witt.

This is my seventh historical novel for the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestries. If historical fiction is your thing, or if you think you might like to explore the genre, head on over to Historical Tapestries to check out all the reviews! (Or click on my challenge link for a few recommendations to start.)


  1. Wasn't it great? Man, I loved it. But you didn't like Eli, despite his occasional aversion to what they did?

  2. I understood Eli and I suppose I felt a bit sorry for him at times, but I couldn't get all the way to liking him. He was better than Charlie though!

  3. I own this and can't wait to read it, it sounds so good!

  4. Great review! I have been on the fence about whether or not to give this one a try, but your review has me thinking I really should.

  5. I've seen the cover of this book, but didn't know anything about it. It sounds intriguing. I'm glad you enjoyed it.