Shortlisted for the Booker Prize
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else.Read more...
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Shortlisted for the Booker Prize
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living-and whom he does it for.
With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters-losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life-and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-01-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Dewitt's bang-up second novel (after Ablutions) is a quirky and stylish revisionist western. When a frontier baron known as the Commodore orders Charlie and Eli Sisters, his hired gunslingers, to track down and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm, the brothers journey from Oregon to San Francisco, and eventually to Warm's claim in the Sierra foothills, running into a witch, a bear, a dead Indian, a parlor of drunken floozies, and a gang of murderous fur trappers. Eli's deadpan narration is at times strangely funny (as when he discovers dental hygiene, thanks to a frontier dentist dispensing free samples of "tooth powder that produced a minty foam") but maintains the power to stir heartbreak, as with Eli's infatuation with a consumptive hotel bookkeeper. As more of the brothers' story is teased out, Charlie and Eli explore the human implications of many of the clichés of the old west and come off looking less and less like killers and more like traumatized young men. With nods to Charles Portis and Frank Norris, DeWitt has produced a genre-bending frontier saga that is exciting, funny, and, perhaps unexpectedly, moving. (May)
A surprise-packed Western
Readers of The Sisters Brothers will hardly be surprised to learn that it has been optioned for a film. After all, the fast-paced, gun-slinging Western is cinematic in scope, while its terse and comically stilted dialogue is reminiscent of recent film homages like No Country for Old Men and True Grit.
But Patrick deWitt’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut Ablutions is also a thrilling, smart and surprisingly touching read—the kind of book that translates to the big screen precisely because it’s so visual and visceral.
The brothers of the book’s title are Eli and Charlie Sisters, professional hit men who travel the frontier carrying out the underhanded orders of their enigmatic boss, an off-screen baron known only by the name “The Commodore.” At the novel’s start, The Commodore sends them to assassinate Hermann Warm, a man whose crimes neither trouble nor interest the pair. They know only their assignment, and set out from Oregon City in search of their target.
As the brothers make their way through Indian Territory, prospectors’ campsites, noisy whorehouses and finally into the heart of California Gold Rush country, the two emerge as very different men. Charlie, the oldest, is a bloodthirsty alcoholic, content to live by the laws of the Wild West and without remorse for his deeds. Meanwhile, Eli, the novel’s thoughtful and funny narrator, proves a more sensitive soul—exhausted and conflicted by his way of life, befuddled yet entranced by women, self-conscious about his rotund physique and touchingly delighted by his most recent acquisition: a toothbrush.
Though the book is more episodic (think murderous trappers, gold-gathering schemes and encounters with bears) than plot-heavy, it is always compelling and surprising. When the brothers finally come upon their mark, he is hardly what they expected. Luckily they’re in the habit of rolling with the punches—a technique that will cause readers to follow suit.