Book #94

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

When a frontier baron known as the Commodore orders Charlie and Eli Sisters, his hired gunslingers, to track down and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm, the brothers journey from Oregon to San Francisco, and eventually to Warm's claim in the Sierra foothills, running into a witch, a bear, a dead Indian, a parlor of drunken floozies, and a gang of murderous fur trappers. 

Charlie and Eli Sisters are guns for hire in the Gold Rush era, sent by the Commodore to kill a man, and obtain an elusive formula. I was expecting a boisterous, gunslinging western, but was given something far more bleak and thought-provoking. The gunslinging was just a given.

The brothers are an entire character study within themselves. Whilst their past and childhood are eked out over the pages, it’s clear to see the differences between the brothers, and to understand events which have made them this way. Whilst Charlie seems unconcerned about killing, Eli is far more sentimental, and we see his thought process as he hopes and dreams of situations which will remove him from his role.

Poverty and hardship is rife throughout each of the towns and settlements we visit, and this creates a strange melancholia, and reinforces the subsequent mania we see in California where the Gold Rush has really taken hold. We see the effect this has had on people, and what lengths they will go to to achieve their dreams.

Despite the gorgeous depictions of the time, and the clear skill shown in deWitt’s exploration of character, the plot felt very disjointed; new things happen in each place the brothers land in, with seemingly no purpose or connection to an overall plot point. The ending falls slightly flat, with only a margin of resolution, and left me feeling that this journey with the brothers was one for which I could have probably stayed at home.

Eli’s gorgeous narrative voice, and the simple fact that I adore historical fiction novels made this worthwhile for me. It’s no wild western, but it’s something contemplative and quiet, something to consider and interpret.