William Kennedy, April 30, 2011
(view all comments by William Kennedy)
Where to begin? The Sisters Brothers is without a doubt one of the most original and engaging books I've picked up in awhile. After reading, and thoroughly enjoying Mr. DeWitt's debut novel "Ablutions," I was looking forward to reading this.
"Ablutions" is a brief fantastic story of a barman who works at a downtown LA dive. Told in the second person, it mines similar terrority as Denis Johnson and Bukowski, but with a fresh and inventive narrative. For some reason, I expected "The Sisters Brothers" to be more of the same. Another tale of the down and out, the hopeless and deranged. Patrick DeWitt has grown leaps and bounds since his debut and gives us something unique - a good old fashioned Western that rips along like a horse set loose from the corral for the first time in years.
This novel bends genres and acheives something greater than just being a Western. In fact, the story itself is something universal, it just happens to be set during the early days of the gold rush.
Eli and Charlie Sisters are two hired guns sent to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. They don't question why he has to die, they simply follow orders. The journey to find Warm is a large portion of the book and allows us the chance to see how different Eli and Charlie are from each other. Charlie is brutal and selfish, a cold hearted killer with vicious instincts, while Eli is a bit softer, open to the beauty in life - or at least the possibility of finding happiness someday.
Eli narrates the story with thoughtful observations and through him we begin to understand the complicated relationship between the two brothers.
I read this book in a storm over two nights. Novels often fall into two categories, at least as far as reviewers are concerned - the literary, and the genre books. Literary means difficult and serious while genre (mysteries, sci-fi, paranormal, romance etc.) are easy and mindless reads. Of course, this is not always the case but it is a hard stigma to fight. What Mr. DeWitt does is completely ignore whatever classification his novel may be given, and tells us a ripping good story full of humor, violence, and heart. Charlie Sisters knows a little something about the way of the world and how greedy and selfish people are at their core. To find a way to be someone different in the midst of all that is Charlie's goal, and Mr. DeWitt takes us right along with him.
I loved this book. I loved the way it was told and the way it made me feel. Highly recommended for anyone and everyone who enjoys great fiction.