“The Sisters Brothers” Book Review

The-Sisters-Brothers-book-coverby J. D. Fencer

This is the fictional tale of brothers Eli and Charles Sisters, both hired gunmen plying their trade in the 1850s American West, written by Patrick DeWitt. They work mainly for one client referred to only as The Commodore.

“The Sisters Brothers” recounts the brothers’ exploits riding down through Oregon and the arid plains of California in pursuit of one of their client’s enemies, a man who goes by the name of Hermann Kermit Warm. Warm’s sin is that he cheated The Commodore by stealing the proceeds of a new and secret technique that they both invented for finding gold in water.

DeWitt’s unadorned writing style includes the use of phonetic spelling in much of the dialog to reflect the crude, uneducated individuals in the book, especially the two brothers. He develops the main characters well, revealing their psychological complexities: they’re cold-blooded killers with little empathy for their fellow humans, yet become distraught by the death of a horse.

The author’s evocative prose lures the wary reader into bleak, squalid frontier towns, there to mingle with the amoral, foul-smelling citizenry. The scenes depicting ruthless con men, pathetic drunks, and hysterical whores call to mind the unvarnished realism in Clint Eastwood’s movie “Unforgiven.” The similarities end there, though.

DeWitt has an unusual and engaging writing style, and the skills to competently develop plot and character. The Sisters Brothers won a number of literary awards (mainly Canadian), and in 2011 was shortlisted for the UK’s Man Booker Prize.


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