THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick DeWitt

sister   A western, with the title The Sisters Brothers.  That gave me the first clue that it wasn’t going to be a John Wayne kind of western.  But then, just what does constitute a gen-u-ine western, anyway?  Guns?  Check.  We got those.  Horses?  Check.  We got those.  Wagons?  Check.  We got those.  Gold rush?  Check.  Got that, too.

Eli and Charlie Sisters, fresh from a hard-knock childhood of abuse and privation,  begin to work for a dark character known as the Commodore as … let’s call a spade a shovel, here …. hired assassins.

Told in first person formalized style of the literary western,  Eli gradually lets us have a peek at his growing disenchantment with the killing business.   He loves and admires his brother but is coming to the realization that possibly Charlie is using him, and Eli is beginning to feel the injustice of this.

The brothers are sent on an assignment to San Francisco to kill a certain Mr. Hermann Kermit Warm, for the only reason they are told, because he stole something from the Commodore.  The brothers never ask too many questions about their jobs.  The pay is too good, the adventure too good, and it is better just to get the job done and get paid.

Along the way from Oregon to their assignment, they meet up with a variety of odd characters, and even odder situations, and the Reader (that would be me), gets the feeling she has one foot in The Canterbury Tales and one in a story by Bret Harte.

We start to see the contrast between Charlie, pretty much psychopathicly (is that a word?) unemotional about killing people, and he does so with rather distressing regularity.  Eli, on the other hand, tries faintly to be a voice of reason and to keep the body count down.

They eventually track down their intended target, to learn that he has developed a formula that when dumped into a river, makes the gold in the riverbed glow, showing where to dig for the gold.   What happens from there on is almost destiny in spurs and ten gallon hat.

I want to say this was a charming book, but it wasn’t really charming, what with all the shooting of people, and it was sad, what with poor Eli’s fumbling attempts to strike up a relationship with various female personages.  I would like to say it was funny, which it was sort of, in places.   I want to say it is a tough, no-nonsense western, but in spite of all the blood, it isn’t.

So I guess what it really is is a character study in a western setting.  The story moves relentlessly toward its inevitable end, and we are left with, while not exactly a satisfied feeling, at least a feeling of satisfaction of the rightness of the conclusion.

Wa’al, time to get on my horse and skedaddle.   Giddyap, Dobbin.

 

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