Reading The Sisters Brothers could be viewed as out of character for me. In general, my feelings toward westerns could be described as extremely apathetic, and my experience with the genre consists of one college seminar called “Novels of the American West,” a handful of Blazing Saddles viewings, and if you are inclined to count it, an acute enjoyment of Joss Whedon’s criminally short-lived sci-fi/western television series, Firefly.
Why pick a western to review, then? It has occurred to me that, possibly (subconsciously, I will steadily maintain,) I was anticipating a book I could negatively review. Negative reviews are easier and generally, much more fun to write. This is a shameful admission, but even the lightest, random sampling of entertainment commentary on the Internet inevitably leads to this conclusion.
If this was my secret desire, I must be repressing some horrible disappointment. Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is nearly perfect, from the amusing title to the logical and satisfying ending that the book manages not to telegraph.
We follow paid enforcers Charlie and Eli Sisters on their journey to execute prospector Hermann Kermit Warm at the behest of their boss, The Commodore. In most stories, the brothers would be mid-tier bad guys, dispatched along the hero’s road to justice/revenge/freedom/redemption, but Charlie is a little too clever for his job, and Eli, our narrator, a little too moral.
The beginning chapters of the book largely depict the brothers’ episodic encounters with various eccentric characters: a crying man, a dentist, a witch. These episodes gradually graduate to a more coherent narrative as the pair approaches their prey.
Eli and Charlie inhabit a strange, anachronistic version of the American West that incorporates elements such as dental hygiene, dieting, and folk magic. The novel is both funny and violent, at times giving off the faint scent of Terry Pratchett and Gene Wolfe, but neither trait ever overpowers the characters or the plot.
Obviously, stating that you need to read this book is a grossly hyperbolic statement. There are many first-rate, original, intelligent, entertaining novels that you will never regret reading on bookshelves across the world. The Sisters Brothers is one of them.