The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt


To settle the obvious question right now, yes The Sisters Brothers is in no small part humorous; with that title, how could it be anything else?

The book is set in the 1850s, at the height of gold rush fever (and if literature is to be believed, also the height of the gunslinger and unsavory guns for hire) Charlie and Eli Sisters (the brothers of the title) have been sent by their boss, the Commodore, to off Hermann Kermit Warm…but first learn his secret for extracting more gold from a given spot than the more traditional panning or mining methods then currently available–something to the effect of dyeing the river water in a way which causes the gold to glow. Early Xrays, if you will. Charlie is the older and tougher of the two, and thus takes the lead in this adventure while Eli (the narrator) follows along somewhat irked at being given the secondary role. Charlie is also a binge drinker, and the resulting being laid up in bed slows the pair down, along with Eli’s horse Tub, never too swift in the first place, losing an eye to a bear attack. They do find Warm, despite their contact, Morris, being sucked into the “get rich quick” nature of Warm’s invention and running off with him to the gold fields of California. The brothers find both Warm and Morris working a river to pan out the gold.

The warning: this is a Western, and has about the expected amount of violence, floozies and hard drinking, so if you’re looking for a gentle read…skip this. That said, it’s an interesting balance between Charlie, the born gunman, and Eli, who’s the tenderer brother, and would have been better suited to the life of a shopkeeper and minor poet.

This is the first Western I’ve read as one of the “best XYZ books of 2011” suggestions from the Fiction-L email group, and I’m glad I did. It’s a sendup of the genre at that so I haven’t really got anything to which I can compare it, much less know of to suggest. True Grit seems to be the most-compared book on Goodreads, however, along with the author Cormac MacCarthy. I liked it enough to finish it at a go, and was amused by it; the idea of tough cowboy hitman going on a diet and discovering the joys of brushing ones teeth is worth the read for me.

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