Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers

Written by: Patrick deWitt

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.


“I thought, When a man is properly drunk it is as though he is an a room by himself--there is a physical, impenetrable separation between him and his fellows.”

One of the worst things about being a blogger and following a fairly small circle of bloggers who have crazily similar taste in books is that eventually you find yourself the last person to read a book and the job of reviewing it is next to impossible. How can you possibly write something when everyone who reads your blog has already read, loved and reviewed it? And in the case of The Sisters Brothers how can I possibly give the book a better seal of approval than Meg, who literally tattooed the damn thing onto her arm?! I can't think of better praise to deWitt's wordsmithery (wordsmithing?) than to emblazon it on your forearm for all eternity.

Of course, this little problem is hardly a problem at all. Because maybe this review won't be revolutionary to any of you or convince you to read the book (since you've already read it) but because you all reviewed this book so lovingly and Meg reminded me of this love with her gorgeous tattoo I picked it up, and it's definitely possible I never would have found it without all of you. So I guess it's actually one of the best things about blogging, even if it means I spend my review of it rambling on and on about things being the worst but actually the best and avoiding the problem of actually reviewing the damned wonderful book.

So this book. This book I adore. It's so wonderfully crafted everything, the characters, the writing, the style, shine off the page and permanently imprint themselves inside your skull. I bought my copy at one of the few bookstores in Japan that has an English language section and read it in two sittings. The first time while I caught a train back from the film festival I was attending and the second was after I went to bed early so that I could finish what I'd begun earlier that day. It is utterly engrossing, and even though my train was a lengthy one (1.5 hours, ugh) I was shocked at how much I managed to read in the space of that ride. Like so many of the books we all fawn over, this is the kind of book you can't put down. Not because the plot is particularly fast-paced or thrilling (although it most certainly is) but because the world is so completely constructed that it's an absolute pleasure to jump inside.

I actually had to give up highlighting lines and sections because I was basically underlining and drawing stars next to everything Eli said and it was slowing down my progress. But this book is dripping with truths. Eli, though perhaps a little simple, is so switched on when it comes to the human condition and the reasons we do certain things. Honestly I have no idea how Meg chose just one line to tattoo onto her arm, I'm fairly sure I'd have to tattoo every single word in the book because I just wouldn't be able to choose.

This will be me, but with this book as the tattoos and none of the muscles

“Your laughter is like cool water to me," I said. I felt my heart sob at these strange words, and it would not have been hard to summon tears: Strange.  "You are so serious all of a sudden," she told me. "I am not any one thing," I said."
I mean, how freaking supurb is that small fraction of a conversation? I spent 98% of this book nodding furiously along with Eli as he pondered his job, his brother, religion, women, drinking and the afterlife. He manages to speak so frankly and so openly and while he is one of the saddest and most sympathetic characters I've read, he's also devilishly funny, especially when bouncing off his brother Charlie.
“Just your everyday grouping of civilized gentlemen, sitting in a round robin to discuss the events of the day with quivering erections.”
Perhaps one of the reasons Eli and the entire book works so well is the Western setting. I can't say I'm exactly an expert on the genre since I'm fairly sure True Grit is the only other Western I've read, but it felt completely authentic. The dialogue felt like it came straight out of Once Upon A Time In The West and the narrative conjured up the reckless enthusiasm and abandon the Gold Rush ushered in. It's the story of a fairly new country* caught up in the excitement of finding their identity and revelling in the lack of ties to the old one. It is, to be completely cliché, the story of America and American life. It feels like so much of what makes up the American identity today, the neuroses, the unrestricted enthusiasm, the family values, was set up in these pages. And maybe this era didn't actually have as big an impact on the America we all know today, but this novel makes it feel like it did. And hey, maybe that's why you all liked it so much what with most of you being Americans and all.

So yes, this book is wonderful. If any of you haven't read it yet (are you the last Nahree?) then you most definitely have to drop whatever book you're reading and pick up this one**. Because there's no way it'll be better that this. Or, I guess, maybe it could be better, but it can definitely wait.

*relatively speaking and y'know ignoring the fact that there were people in America for millennia before the British/Spanish/Dutch etc settled.

**While you're at it, why not check out everyone else's reviews. They're infinitely better than this >> Skip on over to read what Meg, Alley, Laura, and Tika, thought.


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