four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-SistersBrothersPatrick deWitt's debut, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel (2009), examines the seedy side of Hollywood bar culture. In The Sisters Brothers, deWitt mines the frontier West, as the eponymous title characters head south from Oregon to take revenge on a prospector who took something from their boss.

The Story: In 1851, with the Gold Rush still raging in the West, a shady underworld figure called the Commodore orders Charlie and Eli Sisters to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, an innovative and successful prospector. The brothers, indisputably skilled at their vocation, travel from their home base in Oregon City to San Francisco to confront Warm. On their odyssey, the two encounter a society peopled by a large cast of eccentric, irrepressible characters. Narrated by Eli, the more humane of the two brothers--"Our blood is the same, we just use it differently," he writes, to explain why Charlie enjoys the killing more than he does--the novel reaches a climax in which both Charlie and Eli find their lives changed in remarkable ways.
Ecco. 336 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780062041265.

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"A meditation on family, love and what we do for work and why, The Sisters Brothers offers up its feast of delights in short punchy chapters, with writing that's sometimes as laconic as a cowboy, and sometimes more like a hilarious comedy routine between two straight men. ... Deliciously original and rhapsodically funny, this is one novel that ropes you in on page one, and isn't about to ride off into the sunset any time soon." Caroline Leavitt

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The book seduces us to its characters, and draws us in on the strength of deWitt's subtle, nothing-wasted prose. He writes with gorgeous precision about the grotesque: an amputation, a gouged eye, a con in a dive bar, a nauseating body count." Karen R. Long

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It doesn't take long for the reader to become invested in Eli--in his hopes, worries, questions and doubts. ... He is a warm narrator telling a story that is original, entrancing and entertaining." Robin Vidimos

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"If Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor, he might have concocted a story like Patrick DeWitt's bloody, darkly funny western The Sisters Brothers. ... Despite being not entirely quick, Eli's voice makes reading the book a treat." Carolyn Kellogg

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"As the novel runs along, deWitt shifts the story in unpredictable directions, slowing the pace for a surreal finale in the woods that's touched with alchemy. ... After capturing the fireside camps and saloons in perfectly drawn vignettes, deWitt strips these two lethal brothers of more than they ever thought a man could lose." Ron Charles

Portland Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Not perfect--readers may quibble over the balance deWitt strikes between character development and plot progression (his story and the genre favor the latter). But good enough to propel the reader forward, mindless of pages turned or hours burned." J. David Santen Jr.

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
"DeWitt efficiently, though not altogether convincingly, sketches the sibling dynamic that holds the brothers together through all the bloodshed--and through Eli's pangs of conscience as he contemplates life on the other side of the law. ... There's a sense that DeWitt is more interested in dreaming up characters than in giving them much to do, and Sisters Brothers sometimes feels aimless in the long lead-up to the confrontation with Warm." Christian Williams

Critical Summary

A mash-up of Charles Portis's True Grit and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (or, as Carolyn Kellogg puts it, "if Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor"), The Sisters Brothers brings real humanity to the surreal goings-on in the character of Eli, the younger and more sensitive of the kill-for-hire duo. To be sure, Eli's perspective on his profession is straight out of the Rooster Cogburn philosophy of life: "The loss of control does not frighten me so much as embarrass me," he admits about his willingness to kill. And while readers will savor the novel's nonchalant violence, plenty of dark comedy, and a chaotic, driving plot, deWitt's sharp eye for character hits the target as often as his talented killers.