It’s that time again! Time for another review and discussion in the Wheelhouse Review Book Club. This month we read The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. What did we think? (Discussion questions are located below)
First of all, can we talk about how great the cover is (created by Dan Stiles)? The symmetrical brothers with their evil eyes combining with the moon to make a skull? Stunning. I definitely had people pause to look at the cover while I was reading on the subway and in cafes. I hope they were intrigued enough to pick it up.
The Sisters Brothers is a quick-read Western. However, as someone who normally doesn’t like Westerns, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It tells the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters from the vantage point of Eli. They are guns for hire in 1851 Gold Rush California, and are on a mission from their boss, the Commodore, to kill Hermann Kermit Warm outside of Sacramento. Because it’s told from Eli’s point of view, we get to know his character much better. While he is a killer, he sees himself at odds with this lifestyle, unlike his brother Charlie, who seems to relish the killings. It is only a sense of family and a quick, violent temper that keeps Eli with Charlie throughout their mission.
The main thing I enjoyed about this book was that it never quite went where you thought it would. One of the reasons I typically don’t like westerns is that they are often very formulaic. I enjoy being surprised, and thankfully, this book did just that–sometimes pleasantly, sometimes rather unpleasantly (for the characters that is, not for the reader). For example, there was Eli’s horse Tub. Recently acquired at the beginning of the novel, Eli’s intense dislike for the horse is apparent from the beginning. Yet DeWitt draws out a relationship that begins to flourish between man and beast, to the point that a sense of understanding and respect is built between Eli and Tub. DeWitt then takes this relationship further, and ends the books with the dissolution of their working arrangement when a wounded Tub walked off a cliff and died (waaaa-waaaa). The unexpected and meaningless death of a prominent character led Eli to lament “what a life it is for man’s animals, what a trial of pain and endurance and senselessness” (page 241). This line stuck out to me, because I see it as the theme of the entire novel.
SPOILER ALERT: This mission is the last one for the Sisters Brothers, who at the end head home to reunite with their mother, wondering about the meaning of it all, after having lost all their money, friends, way and composure. Their mother is obviously reluctant to welcome in her notorious sons, and asks what they want. In response to this question, and to everything else that has happened, the brothers ask only for a bath and a nap. In the face of so much hardship and adversity, sometimes the little things are all one requires.
The Sisters Brothers is incredibly well written, funny, charming and a delight to read. I would never have picked it up on my own, but am incredibly grateful that I did.
Next up, we have The Age of Miracles, to be read and discussed on August 22nd. Have thoughts you want to share on The Sisters Brothers? Leave them in the comments! Also, I have discussion questions for those who are reading in their own book club.
- Is this a modern western or an anti-western?
- What impact does the brothers’ line of work have on their relationship?
- What other book with brothers do you see similarities with?
- Would you have liked more background on the Sisters brothers? Perhaps a flashback? If there had been a flashback, what would you have liked to have seen?
- If this book was about good friends instead of brothers, how much would the story change?
- Some people equate some aspects of American culture with the country’s cowboy past; Draw some parallels between themes in this book, and American culture more generally.
- Who would you cast as the brothers in a movie version? Why?