Friday, November 18, 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, reviewed by Francine Lee

House of Anansi Press, October 2011, hardcover 336 pages, $22.95 or $12.43 as Kobo download.

Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Winner of the Writers Trust Fiction Prize. Shortlisted for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.’s Best Book of the year.

A mere glance at the cover of this macabre gem about two hitmen in the wild west. convinced me I wanted to leap into the saddle to read this new adventure at full gallop. What a remarkable ride it was!

It is said that scars heal but never fade entirely. In this paradoxical romp through the west, the two main characters are bonded by brotherhood, unusual and intense circumstances, and a pecking order that seems tried and true, not to be messed with. Well, Mr. deWitt intelligently and sympathetically messes with their bond, turns it on its ear, and leaves us trying to balance our emotions throughout the entire story.

As the events unfold the nameless faces of folks and animals encountered by Eli and Charlie, take on a dreamlike quality. Nothing is as it seems. Nothing is for certain. The characters who seem strong and resilient, are the first to drop, while the weak take on a role of heroic proportions. The clinical discussions that lead to truce after family truce, become disturbingly logical to the reader.

We learn about the life of these hired killers: Who they track, what they must live with, what visual vignettes they must take to their own graves. We expect to dislike them and empathize with their victims. Sometimes this is the case, but often not. I had as much pity for an injured horse as I did for any of the human wretches the brothers encounter.

The story changes pace, location, and loyalties. It launches us at times into the future and then recedes into the past. We collect details, like the fact that the brothers never use contractions with each other; thus the dialogue is often more formal between these two men than it is when they encounter strangers. They do not seem relaxed with one another, although all things are familiar. The theme of friendship surfaces many times. We find ourselves laughing along with the characters at things that are just not funny. Is it nervous tension or detachment?

I empathized with the absurdity, drawing to mind my own experience riding the Gold Rush Trail in British Columbia. A rather comical undertaking for me, with animal allergies having plagued me all of my life. It seemed ridiculous to attempt it, but I strapped myself into that saddle for the Fam Trip of a lifetime, complete with kleenex box wedged between my knees, long sleeves buttoned over my leather elbow-length gloves, scarves to cover my hair and face, jeans tucked into misfit boots.

I was out of my element, felt like one of Shakespeare's fools, had no prior riding experience. That is exactly how I felt reading this book. That I did not belong, but was determined to persevere in my trespassing, and thoroughly enjoy the experience. Most of you will not need to go to such extremes. Just stay in the saddle and let the author take you for a most refreshing trail ride into a not so distant past. It is an honourable journey, with delightful dignity and searing wit. Well deserving of any and all accolades!

Francine Lee can be found most days on a picnic with her 4 kids, combining her 4 most cherished things: travel, nature, food, books!

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  1. Where to begin? The Sisters Brothers is without a doubt one of the most original and engaging books I've picked up in awhile. After reading, and thoroughly enjoying Mr. DeWitt's debut novel "Ablutions," I was looking forward to reading this.

  2. I really enjoyed this book. Usually, award winning novels are chosen because they challenge the reader (but they aren't very fun to read). This book received so much attention because it's compelling and intelligent.

  3. I am so glad that you both enjoyed this book! His 1st novel Ablutions is on my list for the new year. I was made aware of this author through the Giller list, and although I read several of the other choices from the 2011 Long List, this is the only one I chose to do a review on, because it surpassed all others in creativity. The others were enjoyable, but I am glad to have added this one to my library to go back to over and over again! F.H.Lee

  4. This book is insanely great. Even if you're dead tired and sleepwalking - it reads smoothly and effortlessly; feels like a quite river flows, steady, steady, through the tranquil May forest.

  5. I loved this book. I loved the way it was told and the way it made me feel. Highly recommended for anyone and everyone who enjoys great fiction.

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