Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Charlie and Eli Sisters are notorious hired guns from Oregon Territory.  In 1851 they're sent to San Francisco for a job and end up involved in a sort of alchemical get-rich-quick scheme.  The book charts their trip from Oregon to complete the job from the perspective of Eli Sisters, the larger and kinder of the two.  Once they set out the story turns into this sort of series of vignettes of all the bizarre people and situations they encounter on the way.  The only continuous thread is this final job and the rising tension between the two brothers now that Charlie has been put in charge of operations.

I was a little disappointed by this book.  It was way too episodic for my taste, bouncing around from very vivid mini-plots with almost no segue between them.  Charlie and Eli encounter 'the crying man' twice, randomly, in Oregon and again in California, without every discovering why he's sobbing uncontrollably.  They may or may not have been cursed by an old woman who may or may not have been a witch.  Then Eli's horse gets attacked by a bear.  I think the intention was to have these be smaller pictures of a bigger, magical West with a capital W during the Gold Rush, but it ended up just making the whole book seem disjointed.

It's an entertaining read but don't expect to be blown away by an epic gunslinging tale.  I also don't think I buy Patrick DeWitt's assumption that everyone out west in that 1800s talked like a polite robot that doesn't understand contractions:
'What are you doing?' he asked me.
'You are giving me this?' said the boy.
'What do you think you are doing?' Charlie asked. 
Which isn't to say that it's without its high points.  It reminded me of The Yiddish Policeman's Union in that they're both reasonably captivating and good, easy reads, but lacking real substance, or connective meaning.
My very center was beginning to expand, as it always did before violence, a toppled pot of black ink covering the frame of my mind, its contents ceaseless, unaccountably limitless.  My flesh and scalp started to ring and tingle and I became someone other than myself, or I became my second self, and this person was highly pleased to be stepping from the murk and into the living world where he might do just as he wished.  I felt at once both lust and disgrace and wondered, Why do I relish this reversal to animal?  I began exhaling hotly through my nostrils, whereas Charlie was quiet and calm, and he made a gesture that I should also be quiet.  He was used to corralling me like this, winding me up and corralling me into battle.  Shame, I thought.  Shame and blood and degradation. 


charmaine smith said...

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.

Charmaine Smith (For more on Quality 7 Day Guided Montana Elk Hunting Pack Trips Click Here)

Marlene Detierro said...

I haven't read a western in a long - different glad I read this. The contrast between characters is outstanding. We make choices and we have to live with those choices. Good read.
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