Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers,  by Patrick deWitt, is one of the year's most talked-about books. It's been popping up in the blogosphere everywhere, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. And I found it on sale at Borders! Woohoo! Otherwise, I might not have picked it up at all.

I'm not into the westerns so much. I've read one other western and it was the horrific, freaking vile--but somewhat literarily appreciatable <--say that five times fast!--Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
Anyway, I steeled myself for reading The Sisters Brothers, but what I found was not quite what I expected.

 It's the story of two hitmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are employed by the Commodore (typical western name) and on the prowl for a Gold Rush prospector they need to bump off. Eli, the tubbier, more philosophical of the two brothers is the story's narrator and I really kinda liked him. He was nice to whores and injured horses, gave money away as necessary to said whores and those suffering from ailments, and he waxed poetic here and there. A jerk with a heart of gold, really. At the end of the day, he was still willing to shoot someone if he had to, but he might feel badly about it afterward. Charlie, his brother, was not so philosophical, preferring to drink himself into oblivion and shoot whomever got in his way without so much as a backward glance.

So what was unexpected? The humor. It was deadpan and ironic in spots, silly in others. Eli had a soft spot for the newly-marketed toothbrush and he really was overly nice to those whores. The dynamic between Eli and Charlie was entertaining, and the spots they found themselves in as they traveled to kill the prospector were laughable at times: cursed by an old woman, a hotel burned down to their monetary peril, nearly killed by trappers. At other times they were gruesome: horse loses an eye, men covered in blisters and chemical burn.

This book is most definitely character-driven, which I do enjoy. I really felt invested in the brothers, especially Eli, and the "westernness" of it faded into the background, trumped by the humanity rather than the historical setting. That said, I bogged down about three quarters of the way through, but once I got over the hump, I was quick to finish the book.

This is one of those books that I appreciate for what the author was able to accomplish: a thought-provoking cast of characters and interesting psychological dilemmas. On the other hand, I'm not sure how long this book will stick with me. It certainly didn't bowl me over the way other novels have this year, though I appreciated it. It was a "healthy" read in this year's literary fiction diet.

Snuggle (maybe a one-armed hug) -- Skewer

Pub. Date: April 2011
Publisher: Ecco 
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-10:  0062041266 
Source: Purchased by me.

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