The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick DeWitt
Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers is an old western with a modern twist. Even if you don’t like westerns (like me), you might like this one. Hilarious and grotesque at the same time, The Sisters Brothers is surprisingly funny and doesn’t shy away from a bit of self-reflection.
The callous Eli and Charlie Sisters are legendary as the Commodore’s hired men. Their mission is simply to find their targets and kill them, no questions asked.
Charlie is the lead man and feels no remorse. Eli, the more sentimental of the two, senses that there could be more fulfilling careers available to him. But he has always backed up his brother. The killing itself seems to come naturally.
Hired to kill Hermann Kermit Warm for reasons they do not need to know, the Sisters brothers go perfunctorily about their business. Their assignment takes them to California where gold fever has gripped the state.
The brothers live in the seedy underworld of the 1850s. Throughout their travels they encounter an unappealing and unfortunate cast of characters. These include a prospector who has lost his mind, a boy whose family has left him for dead (and who temporarily latches onto the indifferent brothers), and the sleazy Mr. Mayfield, proprietor of the town of Mayfield, who surrounds himself with sycophants.
The story is narrated by Eli, who, despite being a cold-blooded murderer, is an endearing character. Eli would like to fall in love and settle down, and dreams of leaving the nomadic life. Eli and Charlie live on the fringes, and Eli is looking for a way out.
His wish may be fulfilled when the brothers learn of a business proposition that could be their salvation. Like the gold crazed prospectors that populate the hills, Eli and Charlie hatch a plan that they hope will set them up for life. They have to hustle their way into it, but they’re good at that. Eli’s growing displeasure at his life of spare brutality is pushing him towards a new path. Little do Eli and Charlie expect the calamitous mishaps that follow.
DeWitt has a knack for making ugly realities into comedic episodes – do not underestimate the humour in this grim tale. Entertaining and tragic, The Sisters Brothers is more than a standard western. As the brothers grapple with their own beliefs, childhoods and futures, these psychopaths reinvent themselves, for better or for worse.