Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Should one ever decide to buy a book for its cover, this is the one.  Not only is it graphically cool, clever, and terrifically eye-catching but it lets the reader know what to expect: cowboy types with guns, the lure of big money looming over the shoulders of the Brothers, the mysterious fingerprint whorls, and the shade of red reminiscent of blood and violence.

Even better, the story is marvelous and more than lives up to the promise of the cover.

Two brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters, do dirty work for a man we know only as the Commodore.  Under his orders, they are making their way from Oregon to a gold-mining claim near Sacramento to kill a man named Hermann Warm.  Along the way, Eli, the more introspective of the brothers, considers the possibilities of a "quiet life" after this deed is done.   

I can only describe it as Western Noir and I believe it stays true to both genres.  There are horses and hookers, greenhorns and gunsels, as well as punch-ups, double-crosses and even, dare I say it, redemption. 

Despite their dastardly vocation, the Sisters are surprisingly likable (Eli moreso than Charlie) and Eli is a narrator you quickly come to like and trust.  His sensitivity and insight are unexpected at first but give the story a sense of lonesome honor.  The brotherhood dynamic is also very realistic with each Sister knowing just which buttons to push and knowing when each has gone just too far.

The writing is fast and clean, the dialogue keen and the author's respect for the Western and the hard-boiled is honest with just a hint of the dime-store tawdriness that often accompanied both. His description of a grubby San Francisco restaurant called the Black Skull as "...a charmless garbage chute of a lopsided shack..." had me laughing out loud.

As well, there is insight: "Warm stood before me then, looking into me; his manner conveyed several things at once: Sturdiness, wariness, fatigue, but also an energy or glow--something like the center of a low flame.  Is this what they call charisma? I do not know, exactly, except to say Warm was more there than the average man."  

I think The Sisters Brothers is more there than many, many books I've read.