Combining a hodgepodge of science fiction, gore, magic, the poignant, aching theme of loneliness and wrapping it all up under the ruse of a classic western seems unlikely, but it’s exactly what Patrick DeWitt has done in his novel The Sisters Brothers.
Set in California and Oregon in 1851, The Sisters Brothers follows the journey of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two brothers with a knack for killing and a troubled past. Employed by the mysterious man known only as The Commodore as his hired hitmen, the Sisters brothers must travel to San Francisco to “deal with” the red-headed scientist Hermann Kermit Warm. All does not go as planned, however, and after tangles with whores, witches, and Gold Rush era gangsters, the Sisters brothers must eventually come to terms with the realities of their pasts, presents, and futures.
The Sisters Brothers is narrated by Eli, the more introverted, thoughtful of the two. His voice is ripe with loneliness and neglect, especially at the hands of his callous older brother. One moment, the reader roots for this lonesome underdog, the next, we are revolted at the ease of his inhumanity towards his victims, making this novel a truly compelling read.
I found myself wishing (fruitlessly), however, that Eli would take a stand against the powerful figures who controlled his life, and each time an opportunity passed I grew more frustrated. In the end, though, justice is served in true western fashion and the reader comes away knowing that maybe, one day, our unlikely heroes will ride off into the sunset.