The Sisters Brothers

If I was writing a blurb for the cover of the novel The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt it would say “The Sisters Brothers will make you want to brush your teeth and hug your horse.” In fact when I first bought The Sisters Brothers, after hearing great things about it from some people I respect, I couldn't get past the first couple of pages because Eli Sisters describes the loss of his last horse, which died in a fire, in detail. I didn't have the heart to find out what was in store for his new horse,so I set the book aside until this week when I read it in one marathon session.

Eli and his brother Charlie work for a man called the Commodore. As the story begins they are about to begin a new job, hunting down a fellow in San Francisco and meting out some justice. (Which may or may not be actual justice.) They are a fearsome couple, so fearsome that all they have to do is tell people their names and just about everyone backs off. They're journeying from Oregon to San Francisco, which is an interesting choice. The story is a western, set at the height of the gold rush, so the obvious choice would have been to set it in a conventional place like Arizona.

As they travel they meet an intriguing succession of odd characters. Weeping men, mysterious elderly women, sex workers, abandoned boys and super creepy girls are just some of the rogues, miscreants and unfathomable people they encounter. They also have a series of mishaps, or maybe disasters is a better word.

Before we are really settled into the story Eli is bitten by a venomous spider and falls very ill. No sooner does he get a “cure” when his head swells up and he has to see the dentist, where he is introduced to a new wonder – the toothbrush. And thus begins his grand romance with the minty freshness of a clean mouth. As one of the characters says, it's like cleaning your whole head.

Poor Eli is looking for romance with more than just his toothbrush. He's lonely and doubtful of his career, if you can call it a career. As he and his brother travel he becomes more and more unsure of his role as the Commodore's enforcer. He starts to think about settling down and daydreams about sharing this settled life with just about every woman he meets. Unfortunately he suffers from body image problems and his big frame and big face make him insecure. Which makes him extra susceptible to a kind word. My heart definitely went out to poor Eli, who has a tough row to hoe. Maybe I shouldn't like him so much since he's a killer and has a terrible temper (which he views as almost a second personality), but my heart softened for Eli and I wished him only the best.

The relationship between the two brothers is very well drawn. It captures the love/hate that close kin have for each other and showcases the power struggle/dynamic that siblings often share. Eli is under the shadow of his brother but he also serves as the conscience of the two and wrestles with morality while Charlie seems to be able to focus on just getting the job done. Although Charlie may not be as blithe as he appears as he drinks his way through the story, frequently unable to travel because of his severe brandy hangovers.

The Sisters Brothers is a fascinating read. It's dark and funny and mysterious. There is a bit of alchemy, a touch of witchcraft and some science. It's full of misfortune and triumph, mishaps and tenderness. It can make you laugh like a loon on one page and sniffle on the next. You can give the book a try here at the Harper Collins website.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is another comic from Kate Beaton's comic, featuring her famous fat pony. In this one fat pony is trying to have a nice graze when he's interrupted by a spoooooky ghost...