Patrick DeWitt: The Sisters Brothers

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.

Why I read it:

It is important to know when you should follow book recommendations. Some days I am stubborn, and refuse to read or watch things no matter how persuasively its acolyte may argue, but once I get a series of recommendations for the same thing from the right combination of people, well. At that point refusing is pointless because I am obviously going to love it.

Why it is Awesome:

This was the case with The Sisters Brothers. It is black humour at its finest, where death and absurdity dance about our sibling hitmen in a cornucopia of bad luck and disaster. Westerns are not my usual cup of tea, but a proper black humour book will bring me to almost any genre. This novel has the genre love of a Tarantino film with the bleakness of the Coen brothers, but has a humanity and charm which I feel far surpasses them both.

Amidst the perils of cheap veterinary services and the glories of proper dentistry, The Sisters Brothers carries us across the West deep in the mind of one half of a criminal duo whose name shakes varmints in their boots (because becoming seasoned killers is totally the best way to keep the school kids from making fun of your name). Eli Sisters has the simplest of views on the most complex of subjects, and approaches his life with a calm yet paradoxically hopeful resignation. This book puts us in the mind of a killer, but one who is conflicted and wearied by his life. But lo! What a joy to have him neither gloried nor tortured. Death was his job, and he’s beginning to think that a) he doesn’t really like his job and b) his brother maybe likes it too much.

Why black humour is Awesome:

Like the best dark humour, this book examines the absurdity of life and how at the mercy of chance and circumstance we are as we fight our way through it. Money, which men kill and die for, comes and goes through Eli’s hands like water, and it is easy to adopt his philosophical detachment from a commodity he seems to have so little control over. But where money appears and vanishes like short-lived flowers, family stands as a constant. Family, worth revenge and murder, but who Eli never lets overwhelm his own sense of identity.

Not to mention that this book is bleakly hilarious. Eli’s steadfast acceptance of snakebites, curses, failed imaginary romances, his horse’s exploding eyeball and his increasingly psychotic brother are charming without being naive, simple without being simplistic and just so goshdarngood that I am thinking of writing a thank you note to the friend that ferried it all the way to Istanbul to hand to me to take back to Australia. And I’m pleased that the Governor General Award people agree with me.

This book was read on the plane.

Be warned, the book looks meaty but it took me a scant three hours on a plane to read it. This would have been a disaster for me, as it was fully one half of my two weeks worth of vacation books and it was done before I’d even reached the next airport, if the other half hadn’t been James Joyce and therefore took the entire rest of the vacation plus some.

Why the book itself, not just the writing, is Awesome:

Also, full marks to the layout artist for this book. The font and spacing of the chapters echos the pace and wide open spaces of the book in way that I would say is serendipitous except that I know the type of people who end up in book publishing jobs and they are totally the type of people who would argue about how much space to leave at chapter headings to make a book feel literary as opposed to genre. The gorgeous death’s head paper cutout book cover does a good job too.

As a bonus, here is a blog talking about said cover.


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