The Sisters Brothers

Patrick deWitt

First Sentence:   I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job.

Charlie and Elie Sisters are hired killers. They are ruthless, irrepressible rogues. They are also completely lovable, even if they are killing machines.  Eli in particular, with his weight problem and his constant philosophising is incredibly endearing, forever giving away his money to pretty girls and questioning his chosen career path. In this wondrous pastiche of the traditional western, Patrick deWitt has triumphed. We follow the Sisters brothers as they carry out a job for the Commodore: to hunt down and kill Hermann Kermit Warm, and also to extract a secret formula from him before he dies, for reasons unknown to themselves. Along the way they wrestle with their conscience, and we as readers are treated to a glorious picaresque novel filled with comedy, pathos, anger, frustration, and holding it all together, the truly unforgettable  pairing of Eli and Charlie. Eli, as narrator, has some profound insights throughout. For example, his thoughts on Charlie’s drinking, and drunkenness in general:

Mayfield and Charlie were ostensibly involved in a conversation, but really they were speaking to themselves and wished only to hear their own words and voices: Charlie made fun of my toothbrush; Mayfield debunked the myth of the divining rod. On and on like this until I despised them both. I thought, When a man is properly drunk it is as though he is in a room by himself – there is a physical, impenetrable separation between him and his fellows.

This books stands out for me as an entertaining, well-written, imaginative piece of fiction and deWitt’s storytelling is head and shoulders above a lot of his better reviewed contemporaries.

* * * *

Last Sentence:   And might I say what a pleasing conclusion this was for me.

Last Sentence explained:     After countless killings and many miles travelled the Sisters brothers finally return to their mother. Instead of completing their mission as planned, they decide to join forces with Hermann Kermit Warm and Morris, another character they meet along the way. After a night spent collecting gold with the formula they were hired to steal (this being the formula’s purpose: to make gold visible in riverbeds) Morris dies, followed shortly by Warm. This magic chemical proves too caustic for humans and Charlie himself does not come away unscathed either as he spills some, undiluted, on his hand. The brothers’ misfortune does not end there however, just as they are about to leave their camp  they  are surrounded by Indians who steal all their gold. Not long after this, they are robbed by a group of whores they had earlier dealings with. Undiluted, the chemical is incredibly damaging and Charlie ends up having his hand amputated. After this terrible event there is a particularly poignant scene which conveys brilliantly the brothers’ relationship and the unspoken love/regard that one holds for the other:

He had laid out a bucket for the hand and wrist to drop into but his aim or placement was off and it landed on the floor. He could not be bothered to retrieve this, busy as he was caring for what remained of Charlie, and I crossed over and lifted it myself. It was surprisingly light; blood dripped freely from the open end and I held this over the bucket, gripping it by the wrist. My touching Charlie’s arm like this would not ever have happened when it was attached, and as such I blushed from the foreignness of it.  I found myself running my thumb over the coarse black hairs. I felt very close to Charlie when I did this. I placed the hand and wrist standing upright in the bucket and removed this from the room, for I did not want him to see it whenever he awoke.

Ultimately Eli succeeds in killing the Commodore by drowning him in his bath and then he and Charlie return to their mother’s house. They know they will never be at peace having double-crossed the Commodore as long as he is alive, so kill him they must. With Charlie’s hand out of action this task falls on Eli’s shoulders. When the deed is done, he returns home and listens outside the door as Charlie himself has a bath:

He was saying nothing and would say nothing, I knew, but the sound the water made was like a voice, the way it hurried and splashed, chattering, then falling quiet but for the rare drip, as if in humble contemplation. It seemed to me I could gauge from these sounds the sorrow or gladness of their creator; I listened intently and decided that my brother and I were, for the present at least, removed from all earthly  dangers and horrors.

And might I say what a pleasing conclusion this was for me.

Random quote from the book:

“It’s a peculiar lifetime on earth.”

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