The Sisters Brothers
  • The Sisters Brothers
  • The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers

3.9 124
by Patrick deWitt

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Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's

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Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne'er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

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Editorial Reviews

Katherine A. Powers
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is the best novel I have read in years. It is so perfectly in accord with my tastes and sensibilities that it immediately took a place on my list of favorite novels –– a set of twenty–five oddly assorted and constantly reshuffled works (among them novels by E. F. Benson, Sigrid Undset, Charles Portis, Dawn Powell, Flann O'Brien, and Evelyn Waugh). But I'm hardly alone ? the novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in Britain and won Canada's Governor General's Award, higher than which no book can climb in those northern parts.

The Sisters Brothers wears the booze–and–blood–soaked mask of a western and is set during the California Gold Rush. It stars two hired killers –– the brothers Charlie and Eli Sisters –– and is punctuated by sixteen men shot dead, two poisoned, one drowned, and the report of another axed to death by his own hand. The death count further includes two bears, two horses, one dog, and nine beavers. Despite this carnage, the novel possesses the unlikely virtues of kindliness and understated humor, qualities that arise out of the sedate, ingenuous delivery of the story's narrator, Eli. He is the younger though beefier brother, a gentle, homespun philosopher (and killer) whom Charlie, a domineering, conscience–free brandy bibber, treats as his stooge.

When we meet the two, they are in the employ of a man called the Commodore and are setting out from Oregon City on a mission to California to murder a prospector, Herman Kermit Warm, who has got on the wrong side of their boss. Terrible details of their last venture soon emerge, not the least of them being that their horses were burned to death. Eli has now been consigned to Tub, a "portly and low–backed" horse whom he has to beat to keep moving. ("Tub believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.")

Eli, too, is sad and profoundly lonely; his only intimate, aside from Tub –– for which unhappy creature he develops a melancholy loyalty –– is his brother. That relationship, despite occasional rays of amity, is not much comfort given the man's know–it–all bossiness and predilection for drink. In a typical scene we find Charlie heading into a saloon: "He invited me along," Eli tells us, "and though I did not much want to watch him grow hoggish with brandy I likewise did not wish to spend my time in the hotel room by myself, with its warped wallpaper, its drafts and dust and scent of previous boarders. The creak of bed springs suffering under the weight of a restless man is as lonely a sound as I know."

Bickering incessantly, the brothers encounter a number of obstacles to their progress, including Charlie's serial hangovers, a spider bite and tooth abscess that almost kill Eli, and problems with Tub. Early on, the poor horse is attacked by a grizzly who savages his eye; but he has a doughty heart. "Despite Tub's eye wound he never so much as stumbled," Eli tells us, "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 travelling man."

The brothers ride across territory marked with occasional signs of those who have traveled before them on their own roads to ruin. A sense of desolation and abandonment pervades the land; even in the towns, disillusion and hectic desperation prevail. The Old West of The Sisters Brothers is a phantasmagorical netherworld populated by the lost and the damned: a weeping man, an abandoned boy, a witch, a terrible little girl, degraded women, mad prospectors, and bands of killers. There would seem to be something of the allegory about all this, especially as the lust for gold is the force that has given the landscape its dark glare. But the novel's fine literary qualities operate against allegory's oppressive portentousness and self regard: deWitt's prose combines decorum with limberness; details of material life are vivid and concrete; and the brothers' actual predicament, characters, and relationship with each other are central to the story and humanely developed.

Above all, the novel is very funny. Its humor is deadpan and almost ineffable at times in its adroit mismatching of elements, of good heart and dreadful deed; even its title evokes this peculiar strain of incongruity. The Sisters Brothers is a great and wonderful novel by a man still in his thirties, a writer from whom I hope we will see much more.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Sisters Brothers

A Novel
By Patrick DeWitt


Copyright © 2011 Patrick DeWitt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062041265

Chapter One

I was sitting outside the Commodore's mansion, waiting
for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was
threatening to snow and I was cold and for want of something
to do I studied Charlie's new horse, Nimble. My new horse was
called Tub. We did not believe in naming horses but they were
given to us as partial payment for the last job with the names
intact, so that was that. Our unnamed previous horses had been
immolated, so it was not as though we did not need these new
ones but I felt we should have been given money to purchase
horses of our own choosing, horses without histories and habits
and names they expected to be addressed by. I was very fond
of my previous horse and lately had been experiencing visions
while I slept of his death, his kicking, burning legs, his hot-
popping eyeballs. He could cover sixty miles in a day like a gust
of wind and I never laid a hand on him except to stroke him or
clean him, and I tried not to think of him burning up in that
barn but if the vision arrived uninvited how was I to guard
against it? Tub was a healthy enough animal but would have
been better suited to some other, less ambitious owner. He was
portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty miles
in a day. I was often forced to whip him, which some men do
not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I
did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and
thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.
I felt a weight of eyes on me and looked away from Nimble.
Charlie was gazing down from the upper-story window, holding
up five fingers. I did not respond and he distorted his face to
make me smile; when I did not smile his expression fell slack
and he moved backward, out of view. He had seen me watching
his horse, I knew. The morning before I had suggested we
sell Tub and go halves on a new horse and he had agreed this
was fair but then later, over lunch, he had said we should put it
off until the new job was completed, which did not make sense
because the problem with Tub was that he would impede the
job, so would it not be best to replace him prior to? Charlie had a
slick of food grease in his mustache and he said, 'After the job is
best, Eli.' He had no complaints with Nimble, who was as good
or better than his previous horse, unnamed, but then he had had
first pick of the two while I lay in bed recovering from a leg
wound received on the job. I did not like Tub but my brother was
satisfied with Nimble. This was the trouble with the horses.


Excerpted from The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt Copyright © 2011 by Patrick DeWitt. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Charles Bock
“At once dark and touching, The Sisters Brothers has something on every page to make you laugh. Patrick deWitt has given us a gift, reimagining the old west in a thoroughly original manner. Readers are all the better for it.”
Gil Adamson
“A bright, brutal revision of the Western, The Sisters Brothers offers an unexpected meditation on life, and on the crucial difference between power and strength.”
David Wroblewski
“A gorgeous, wise, riveting work of, among other things, cowboy noir….Honestly, I can’t recall ever being this fond of a pair of psychopaths.”
Tom Perrotta
“Patrick deWitt’s narrator—a hired killer with a bad conscience and a melancholy disposition—is a brilliant and memorable creation.”

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The Sisters Brothers 3.9 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 124 reviews.
TheAnonymousDude More than 1 year ago
I really like this book, but towards the end it gets kind of . . . eh. It sets up an interesting relationship between two brothers employed as wild west hit men. We meet interesting characters and situations on a long journey. Moral dilemmas are explored. But then it turns kind of western sci-fi and everything goes to heck in a hurry until it ends kind of . . . eh. Everything feels kind of rushed through once the premise is crafted. I think this should have been a longer book, or better yet a series of books. Too late now, and what do I know anyway? So, I kind of wishy washy recommend it.
Valca85 More than 1 year ago
What a peculiar story this was. At first, I won't lie, the western theme was not a huge selling point for me. Hesitation was rampant. As soon as I started reading, however, I fell in love with the entire setting. The book is mainly an adventure story. Since the characters are killers hired by a mysterious man call the Commodore, the reader expects lots of action, lots of gun-slinging scenes, but there aren't many of those at all. If any. And that's what makes this book work so well, it breaks away from every stereotype. The characters are rugged yet vulnerable, with a penchant for depression and melancholy. Eli, the narrator, has a soft spot for his handicapped horse and Charlie, Eli's brother, has a need to be the leader at all times. Their misadventures were hilarious. Nothing seemed to go right for the two brothers. The bond between them is well developed, with the usual ups and downs that siblings experience, only with guns and horses added to the mix. Some scenes had me laughing out loud at the madness. At moments it felt like a comedy skit. Don't make the mistake of not picking this book up because of the seemingly cowboy-ish theme, this is definitely a book to own and enjoy.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1851 the Commodore directs his vicious hired guns Charlie and Eli Sisters to kill prospector Hermann Kermit Warm. The siblings head from Oregon City through San Francisco to Sierra foothills where Warm has a Gold mining claim. Their trek south is wrought with danger and adventures whether it is in the wilderness or the saloons. From a witch who curses the duo to drunken females who entice them, The Sisters brothers are starting to understand human existence is more than just birth and death as they elude a horde of fur trappers out to kill them. This is a strong pre Civil War western thriller starring two interesting brothers. The key to the insightful look at the underbelly of the Pacific coast circa 1850s story line is how the readers' attitude towards the Sisters changes through the course of the tale. Initially, the siblings seem like brutal cold killers (Liberty Valance comes to mind). Soon as their back story becomes known; as well as the affectionate caring for one another and Eli's tenderness to a woman surface, fans realize there is more to the brothers in this super mid nineteenth century Americana. Harriet Klausner
Hometownulysses More than 1 year ago
I read this book as an early summer read, and as that it does not disappoint. The narrator is a complex, some-what sympathetic killer whose burgeoning compassion and self-awareness gives the story much humor and depth. One review likened the story to "The Odyssey" and I find that very fitting. The brothers come across a whole range of interesting characters and episodes that all leave a lasting impression on the reader. If anything, I wish some of the characters and episodes were flushed out more, because the short scenes are sometimes too quick for my taste. The dialogue came off a little affected, but I got used to the style. The ending felt a little sprawling and I'm still not sure how to feel about it, but overall the book is a quick, enjoyable read that feels like a modern story set in the Old West. I could see it being made into a film by the Coen brothers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very gripping but also very comical. I would definetely recommend this book. I enjoyed every page from the beginning to the end. I've heard this book being compared to the works of Cormac McCarthy. Being a very devout McCarthy fan, it is somewhat similar in areas such as the theme ( Western ) and the voilence, but overall deserves no more comparisons than those. I am in no way taking away from the book at hand because it is a great and interesting read. Worth your time.
MalteseFalcon More than 1 year ago
No wonder this book was a candidate for the Mann Booker Award. If you like Zane Grey you won't like this book but a better western you haven't read. The characters are well drawn and the story line is not at all what you'd expect. The books dialogue fits the characters to a T. If I said anything else it would spoil it for the reader. Pick it up; you won't put it down until the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of the best books I have ever read. It might not be the deepest or most formal novel ever but there is something about it that makes you want to read it again and again. I would definitely recommend this book to pretty much anyone!
sandiek More than 1 year ago
The Sisters, Charlie and Eli, are killers by trade. Make no mistake, when people in the Old West hear that they are talking with the Sisters brothers, they quake in terror. Currently, they have been hired by The Commodore, a shadowy powerful man, to kill Hermann Kermit Warm. Why? The Commodore says Warm stole from him. What he stole makes no difference to the brothers, nor if he stole at all. They have been hired to kill him, and kill him they will. They set out to find him where he was last reported to be, California. This is California in the Gold Rush days, and the fever has every man desperate to hide what he’s found or to take another man’s stash. That means it is a shoot first, ask questions later environment, and that suits the Sisters brothers just fine. The book follows them on their journey to find their prey, telling of their adventures along the way. Charlie is the leader. He has the confidence of the Commodore and is a stone cold killer. Eli will also kill in a second, but has more emotions. He longs to make a human connection and is capable of surprising kindnesses. The brothers fight among themselves but there is never any doubt that they are a cohesive team. Once they get to California, they discover what it is that the Commodore believes was stolen from him. Warm is an engineer and has developed a method to make finding gold easier. His crime? He refused to cut the Commodore in on the formula or the profits. Will the brothers cut him down or will they hesitate when they discover Warm is not a thief? Patrick DeWitt has written an unsentimental look at the gunslingers, card sharps, prostitutes and prospectors of the California Gold Rush. The reader is immediately transported back to that time, and begins to see how the brothers view the world, even having a sneaking sympathy for them. Although the subject is a bit gruesome, DeWitt actually writes in a humorous fashion, making the horrific seem matter of fact. It was longlisted in 2011 for the Mann Booker prize. This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and those interested in a fascinating tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The narrator is entertaining in a subtle way. The author builds a character that's endearing and dangerous and not at all fussy. His relationship with his brother is interesting. It takes a while to get consumed by the story, but it turns into a spirited read. I wouldn't hesitate to read again and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Exciting and humorous
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just don't miss it. Not gonna blow your hair back, but the best slow burn in a long while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. Highly recommended.
ChesterDrawers More than 1 year ago
A great read. The "voice" and syntax grabbed me straight from page one on through to the mixed bag of a "magic beans" sort of ending, which seemed to come from some other story altogether. DeWitt was doing so well, and then tried to do too much. I would recommend the book, and I think he is one of the writers who is developing the western novel into the noir frontier.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a pair of misfits. Fun reading...but different
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cormac mixed with true grit. Good story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is haunting and sharp, full of lingering imagery and disjointed, whimsical dialogue (some conversations reminded me of Waiting for Godot, I mean.) Charlie and Eli Sisters are both wonderfully well developed, and they contrast each other in an intriguing, thoughtful way. I haven't read anything this fresh in a long time; tragic, stark and dreamlike, The Sisters Brothers grabbed me right from the beginning, like so many people here. In fact, there were lots of other books I was meant to be reading on a deadline when I figured I would try just the first few pages of The Sisters Brothers. Not to be. I finished up with Charlie and Eli's adventure before properly getting to anything else. It's a western about restlessness and greed, loyalty and self-worth, villainy and pity. In the opinion of this internet stranger, it's well worth your time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book I would not usually choose. But I'm so glad I tried it. It was interesting, funny, thought provoking and so much fun. The genre is something I would have chosen for my dad not myself, but I so enjoyed it. An entertaining journey indeed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The narrative voice is enthralling, the characters are wonderfully developed, and it's a rollicking adventure of anti-heroes. Prepare to be blown away. Seriously.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I normally do not read this type of book however I did enjoy this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Little Big Man, Lonesome Dove and now The Sisters Brothers...told with great respect to the characters and the reader...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a very quick read for me. Just enough gritty love/manipulation between brothers. I enjoyed this book more than "Ablutions: Notes for a Novel" another deWitt book. "The Sisters Brothers" was much less depressing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book. A gritty western with spirituality and cadence. Distinct voice without pretention. Close to perfect.
Mainelady More than 1 year ago
I'm not normally a fan of westerns. That said, if there were ever a book that would convert me to the genre, The Sisters Brothers is it! From the very clever cover, to the head-turning title, I was drawn in. The narrator of the tale, Eli Sisters and his brother Charlie are hired guns. They have been sent by "The Commodore" to find someone, get back what was stolen from him, and of course, make sure this thief is not left in a position to steal again. (Or so we believe). The actual tasking is only slowly revealed as the brothers go from place to place looking for their prey, and defending their honor and lives in the meantime. Their adventures bring us a panoply of characters at once dastardly, colorful, and utterly lovable. They are just so much fun! Yes, there is violence, and much of it is probably gratuitous, but it is told from the viewpoint of the times. The dashing, daring-do of their antics and the wild-west scenarios are splendid. There's definitely a movie buried in here. Yet, while the action scenes are well written, with just enough detail to paint clear pictures, but not too graphic to sicken, it is the dialogue between the brothers, their victims, and their cons, that is either "roll on the floor laughing " funny, or so philosophically sophisticated that you almost have to stop and say "Wait.....did they really talk like that?" I reflected that many educated men of that era had the "classics" as their text books, so the rather archaic and complex grammar and vocabulary did in fact come naturally to them. It just sounds a bit over the top at first. It's definitely a book about violence, about vengeance, and about revenge, but it is also a book about self-knowledge, reflection, and forgiveness. I'm not sure I'd call the ending redemptive, but it certainly was more than appropriate to the story. Even if you've never been a western fan, give this one a try. Think Hawaii 5-0 in the gold mining territory of Northern California.
VTrumble More than 1 year ago
A friend of mine with dubious taste recommended this to me so I gave it a read and I'm glad that I did. It's a little harsh at times, the content, not the writing, but I really enjoyed it.