Posted in Fiction

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

In Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters get paid to kill people in 1850’s California.  Eli, the novel’s narrator, wonders if he can’t get something better out of life.  Charlie, on the other hand, remains savvy and shrewd knowing this is what they are supposed to do.

From the beginning, I kept thinking that this would be the perfect movie for Joel and Ethan Coen.  It’s hilarious and dark at the same time and very violent.  I even checked IMDb just to make sure they weren’t and as far as I could tell, they’re not.


Eli’s comtemplative narration keeps the reader wondering how the inner conflict within himsef and the outer conflict with Charlie will be resolved.  As they travel from Oregon to California for their latest assignment, the gunslinging-every-man-for-himself-shoot-’em-up-wild-west philosophy contrasts nicely with Eli’s concern for his injured horse Tub:

Despite Tub’s eye wound he never so much as stumbled, and I felt for the first time that we knew and understood each other; I sensed in him a desire to improve himself, which perhaps was whimsy or wishful thinking on my part, but such are the musings of the traveling man.

The story’s conclusion makes for a potentially divisive reading audience as it ends nothing like I imagined it would.  While the intense violence continues to the end of the story, the conflict between the brothers ends differently. This ending could potentially seem flat to those enthralled with the American Western ideals; however, I found it to be a pleasant surprise.

The West’s rugged individualism turns into Eli’s determination to be both himself and a true brother to Charlie:

Looking back at the camp I thought, I will never be a leader of men, and neither do I want to be one and neither do I want to be led.  I thought: I want to lead only myself.

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