Review: The Sisters Brothers

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June 8, 2011 by markstani

Patrick DeWitt’s ‘The Sisters Brothers’ (Granta) is a superbly conceived twist on the classic Western, following two brothers – Eli and Charlie Sisters – as they traverse Gold Rush America seeking to complete the latest bloodthirsty mission handed down to them by a shady boss man known only as The Commodore. Along the way they encounter a heap of down-and-outs and dead-men-walking. DeWitt has a way of making them all jump off the page in a few short sentences. He pitches Twainian pathos and deadpan humour with the gruesome reality of the times. You’ll find yourself cheering these cold-blooded killers on their treacherous physical and emotional journey. It’s massively immersive stuff. Here’s a short excerpt:

The story of Reginald Watts was a luckless one dealing in every manner of failure and catastrophe, though he spoke of this without bitterness or regret, and in fact seemed to find humour in his numberless missteps. ‘I’ve failed at straight business, I’ve failed at criminal enterprise, I’ve failed at love, I’ve failed at friendship. You name it, I’ve failed at it. Go ahead and name something. Anything at all.’
‘Agriculture,’ I said.
‘I owned a sugar beet farm a hundred miles north-east of here. Never made a penny. Hardly saw one sugar beet. A devastating failure. Name something else.’
‘Shipping.’
‘I bought a share in a paddle-wheel steamboat running goods up and down the Mississippi at an obscene mark-up. Highly profitable enterprise until I came along. Second trip she made with my money in her, sank to the bottom of the river. She was uninsured, which was my bright idea to save us a few dollars on overhead. Also I had encouraged a name change, from The Periwinkle, which I thought bespoke frivolity, to The Queen Bee. An unmitigated failure. My fellow investors, if I’m not mistaken, were going to lynch me. I pinned a suicide note to my front door and left town in one hell of a shameful hurry. Left a good woman behind, too. Still think of her, these many years later.’ The doctor took a moment and shook his head. ‘Name something else. No, don’t. I’m tired of talking about it.’

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