this dazzlingly original novel is a darkly funny, offbeat western about a reluctant assassin and his murderous brother. Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. And they bicker a lot. Then they get to California, and discover that Warm is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich.
What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad.
Told in deWitt’s darkly comic and arresting style, The Sisters Brothers is the kind of western the Coen Brothers might write – stark, unsettling and with a keen eye for the perversity of human motivation. Like his debut novel Ablutions, it is a novel about the things you tell yourself in order to be able to continue to live the life you find yourself in, and what happens when those stories no longer work
It is an inventive and strange and beautifully controlled piece of fiction and displays an exciting expansion of Dewitt’s range.
a witty noir Don Quixote…a blackly comic fable about emptiness, loneliness and the hollow lure of gold.
- Don Quixote doesn’t see the world for what it really is
- it’s a parody of the romantic/chivalry style that was popular at the time
- it features quests, adventures and episodes
- fantasy versus the real world
- famous quote ‘tilting at windmills‘
- spawned it’s own adjective ‘quixotic‘
- was an example of a picaresque novel
The picaresque novel (Spanish: picaresca, from pícaro, for “rogue” or “rascal”) is a genre of prose fiction that depicts the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by their wits in a corrupt society.
Charlie is a harder case to crack. He’s the older brother who watches over (bosses around) his adoring younger brother. As their journey proceeds, Eli is forced to see Charlie more realistically and less idealistically even as Charlie undergoes his own life-altering event.
I tend to work from a place of instinct rather than intellect. I like mysteries, in the work of others and in my own work as well. It’s common for me to write sections that don’t serve a specific purpose but feel necessary to me, and the intermission sections are good examples of this. I can’t say that they propel a narrative or ‘do’anything, but I find them crucial in fleshing out the landscape, illustrating its strangeness and “dangerousness”.
The Western style that dominates the first two-thirds, suddenly changes to a sci-fi thriller when the brothers finally meet up with their latest target – a mad scientist type who has created a crazy toxic potion that finds gold.
I found myself thoroughly enjoying the ride that DeWitt took me on. Eli’s narration is funny, poignant and insightful. The research helped me to get passed the hurdles that affected some of my fellow book-clubbers. It was a case of a little bit of knowledge going a long way.