I love it when someone just drops by and hands me a book and says, “I think you’ll like this.” That is such a gift. Someone read something and for whatever reason, thought enough to make a personal recommendation. That’s.
The most recent book that arrived in my hands through this route was “The Sisters Brothers,” and I must say, it’s a book that I never would have picked up on my own. The story is set in the American west in the 1860s, during the Gold Rush. Eli Sisters and Charlie Sisters (the Sisters brothers) are hired hitmen who ride up and down the coast and carry out the orders of a wealthy and erratic character that we never meet. The brothers have a big job ahead in San Francisco, and it requires that they travel south from Oregon City to find their mark. The youngest brother, Eli, the narrator, comes of age during the journey south, and we get a portrait of the personalities of the two brothers. And we get a gritty picture of the American west.
The story really takes off when the brothers meet their mark and discover his secret, and that secret’s not worth spoiling here. The book deviates from reality and is reminiscent of the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction,” but it’s not entirely out of place. It works in a way that adds to magic and mystery of the story.
Eli and Charlie couldn’t be more different. Charlie is all business—willing to kill and steal without pause—all because he has a job to do and because he craves fortune. But Eli has a heart, and seems increasingly concerned about his own relationships and connections with other people. He gives generously to the whores he meets, naively hoping one will fall in love with him. He sentimentally attempts to heal his clearly broken and useless horse. As the brothers hunt Hermann Warm, their target, they meet a man who knew his whereabouts. The man seems saddened that Warm had left town without him, saying wistfully that he had been “looking forward to an adventure with a friend.” Charlie, all business, is disgusted. But Eli seems moved and said, “it is hard to find a friend.” The man agrees. Eli and Charlie are on entirely different quests.
The language in this book is more formal than one would expect from a western. The author makes no real effort to use dialogue that would have been more authentic for someone in the 1860s. The internal thoughts of Eli are those of a learned intellectual and not a hitman. Again, the “Pulp Fiction” parallel surfaces. At times, the highbrow language juxtaposed with the dusty setting and characters is jarring. But considering the novel as a whole, it works.
I’ve mentioned “Pulp Fiction” here and so there’s obviously some Tarantino influence I see. I also should mention the Coen Brothers influence. The movie “Fargo” is just as violent and full of quiet humor as is “The Sisters Brothers,” yet the violence and humor in both is not meant to distract from the portraits of the main characters. I think that’s what author Patrick deWitt is going for here.
Again, I’m grateful this book showed up on my desk. I think you’ll like it too.
Thanks for reading.