The Sisters Brothers

The American West of the 1850s is allotted to history as wild, gritty, untamed, and messy. According to Patrick DeWitt, it is also, well, quirky, at least concerning his picaresque characters, the titular hombres that make up The Sisters Brothers.

Eli and Charlie Sister are two assassins sent by their boss, the Commodore, to commit murder most foul on one Herman Kermit Warm, who, as the job at hand is slowly questioned, might not warrant such an exacting fate. The brothers are committed, if routine, and take to the task like one would fry up the morning bacon.

Random peculiarities occur along the way during this road trip of a novel. Eli and Charlie encounter one bizarre situation after another, but nothing comes of such meetings other than the portrayal of a quirky story that would make Wes Anderson smile. Each meet up – a weeping man, a prospector who brews dirt in lieu of coffee, and questionably-pointless intermissions with a little girl – is entirely accidental and meaningless in the overall scope of the narrative other than DeWitt wanting the reader to understand that anything can happen in such a setting. Fortunately, the dialogue and craftiness of the formal politeness presented in the overall speech and tone is what makes the novel an enjoyable read. The tale is odd with its laced-in satire that is never entirely funny, nor is it deadly serious, even when dealing with the job of death. DeWitt keeps you firmly saddle-bound through the expanse of the story, and the lives of the brothers through to the nearly anti-climactic ending of base resignation.

Slow and as rambling as a cattle drive at points, DeWitt plays with the Western convention while wrangling up a unique vision. The obligatory shoot-outs occur, but not when expected, and perhaps not often enough. After all, there’s treasure to be found in them there hills, and hot lead is not a substitute for cold gold. Right? DeWitt questions that value and explores the boundaries of the lives that rate such a cost.

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