Results 1 to 10 of 10

Thread: The Sisters Brothers

  1. #1
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,851

    The Sisters Brothers

    Last December I read Patrick de Witt's The Sisters Brothers, a black comedy set in the American West, which was short listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. I did not review it for LitNet at the time, which puts me in the odd position of commenting now on a novel whose less vivid details have surely faded from mind. No matter. The Sisters Brothers is an over the top affair with vividness enough to work with.

    I put de Witt's book into a category with Kazuo Ishiguro's The Sleeping Giant, although at face value they have little in common besides being road stories. I lump them together because both began strongly but became so derailed by their middle third that I considered not finishing them (something I almost never do). Whereupon they ended so strongly that the entire work was redeemed and I was left shamefaced at my doubt. No other novels have given me such whiplash as a critical reader.

    The Sisters Brothers is not especially tightly written. Loose ends are left to flutter, but one does not mind much. Road stories will be road stories. What holds the reader is the appallingly likable voice of Eli Sisters, a gunslinger and hired assassin who, with his smarter but meaner brother Charlie, is known and feared through a cruel and peculiar little world. The Sisters do jobs for a shadowy mugwump of respectable society known as the Commodore. They are immune from their boss' motives. Charlie may or may not have a high regard for their career, but Eli could clearly care less. As he knows, really, he is being used by his brother, who in turn is being used by the Commodore. Killing is a job for him though not a very nice one. It's just more or less the best he can do. A constant metaphor for Eli Sisters is his hapless and woebegone horse, Tub (who of course he is using--however reluctantly). Says Eli:

    "I was often forced to whip him, which some men do not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life."

    The Sisters Brothers is a violent novel. De Witt never excuses or romanticizes violence, but those who are bothered by descriptions of cruelty know who they are and should read something else. It is also a darkly humorous novel that abounds with deadpan lines like: "It is impolite to speak of other people's clothing like that." A running joke is afforded by the new technology (new for 1851 Oregon) of toothbrushing. In one hilarious vignette, Eli introduces a pretty hotel clerk who has caught his fancy to the new practice. They spend a stolen afternoon basking in oral stimulation, after which Eli rather pathetically comes to think of her as his girl. Unbeknownst to him, his Dulcinea is a fledgling prostitute and far more interested in the money she can get off of his brother Charlie. Sad life, sad life.

    Charlie and Eli are being funded by the Commodore to ride from Oregon Territory to San Francisco to murder a man they do not know and steal a formula in his possession. As a novel, The Sisters Brothers rides high as long as it stays on the trail--that is, as long as it remembers it is a road story. Once the brothers reach San Francisco, though, all that falls apart.

    The middle third of this novel is badly done. It has the feeling of a separate story that has been grafted--none too naturally--onto the far better tale of the Sisters. Worse, an element of fantasy is introduced--glaringly ill fitted to the gritty (if occasionally zany) realism of the first third. The formula the brothers are required to steal holds a secret that causes gold nuggets to glow beneath stream bottoms, allowing prospectors to retrieve them without much fuss. Right. Worst of all, the tone of darkly comedic pessimism that made the first part worth reading has been jarringly replaced with a didactic kind of optimism: if only humankind would heed the ways of science, it preaches, our miseries would be few. The problem is no longer one of human nature, but one of certain people who don't get it.

    What is going on here? De Witt is a youngish writer and I suspect he has fallen victim to a generational naïveté. Yes, science is heroic. And once the hydrogen bomb is produced, the successors of the Commodore will do what they can to sell it to Kim Jong-un. That is because of what people are--not because of what science is. De Witt seems simply to have forgotten that he was writing a book about people.

    Fortunately for the reader, the final third of the book is even better than the first, to which it provides a kind of sequel--the Sisters Brothers ride again. The violence is stepped up, but so is the character development. As Eli rises the the fore, we realize that it has always been his story (the middle third be damned). And for all its ending's bloodshed, The Sister's Brothers has a more moving resolution than I presumed de Witt had in him.

    I recommend the The Sisters Brothers with the reservations mentioned above. Who knows, some may even like the middle third of the book. The Man Booker Committee seems to have done so. Sad life, sad life.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 11-16-2017 at 06:57 AM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    The Prairies, Canada
    Posts
    8,880
    Blog Entries
    184
    Great book review ... I am adding this book to my 'check out at the Library' list.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  3. #3
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,851
    Thanks Kiz. I'd be interested to hear your opinion if you decide to read it.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    A rural part of Sweden, southern Norrland
    Posts
    3,066
    In Sweden there is now a political party called F! (Feminist Initiative): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Femini...ative_(Sweden). It has not won any seats in the Riksdag, but is worth keeping an eye on.

  5. #5
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,851
    I appreciate your comment, DW, but I hasten to add that The Sisters Brothers has nothing to do with feminism, Swedish or otherwise. Maybe you got the wrong idea from the title--I'm not sure. But I wouldn't want someone who didn't read my OP to buy the book under the wrong impression. The Sisters Brothers is a black comedy about hired killers in the old West. While not sexist or anti-woman, it is not in any way a feminist novel.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    A rural part of Sweden, southern Norrland
    Posts
    3,066
    Thanks for that clarification, Pompey.

  7. #7
    Great book review Pompey Bum. I really liked it very much.

  8. #8
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,851
    Quote Originally Posted by Donaldcaldwell View Post
    Great book review Pompey Bum. I really liked it very much.
    Thanks, Donald. I really appreciate the encouragement. Welcome to the site.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

  9. #9
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    The Prairies, Canada
    Posts
    8,880
    Blog Entries
    184
    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Thanks Kiz. I'd be interested to hear your opinion if you decide to read it.
    Woah, what a ride that book was! I loved it. But do completely agree with your 'wtf', when that silliness started with how the formula was used... So, if ya can get past that, yes it was a truly awesome read indeed.

    Thank you for writing the excellent review, I do recommend others to give it a go.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  10. #10
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Uncanny Valley
    Posts
    5,851
    Thanks for your follow up comments, Kiz. Yes, a wild ride as long as they're actually riding. I liked the way it resolved itself (Eli's story, I mean), even though it got violent at times. Glad you found it a worthwhile read.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 05-11-2018 at 07:29 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

Similar Threads

  1. should incest between brothers and sisters be legal?
    By SleepyWitch in forum General Chat
    Replies: 427
    Last Post: 10-25-2013, 10:03 AM
  2. The Sisters
    By Stephen_Lucan in forum Short Story Sharing
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: 07-05-2009, 07:37 PM
  3. Sup brothers and Sisters.
    By beyondhuman in forum Introductions
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 12-13-2007, 09:02 PM
  4. How many brothers and sisters have you got?
    By SleepyWitch in forum General Chat
    Replies: 71
    Last Post: 03-14-2007, 11:48 AM

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •