The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Last modified: 
Monday, August 22, 2011

Dust off your spurs, slap on your chaps and saddle up your favorite reading chair to enjoy Patrick deWitt’s gritty and darkly amusing new western, The Sisters Brothers.

Set in 1851 in Oregon and California, The Sisters Brothers tells the dusty, violent tale of Eli and Charlie Sisters, sibling henchmen for a mysterious and wealthy man known only as The Commodore. Their mission is to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, a strange little man who possesses a mysterious formula wanted by The Commodore, and who was last seen behaving bizarrely on his gold claim outside of Sacramento.  

From Oregon City, Eli and Charlie set out on an unexpectedly life-altering journey across the western frontier to find and dispose of Warm. Along the way, the outlaw brothers instigate shootouts, prowl saloons, meet unique characters, and put themselves in settings and situations common in traditional western stories. 

What elevates The Sisters Brothers to another level, however, is the depth of the characters and the dark, sometimes subtle, sometimes ridiculous humor that rolls off the pages of the booklike literary tumbleweed. From the first page, you find yourself drawn into the lives and complex sibling relationship between Eli and Charlie. What’s really crazy is that as you read the story, you consciously understand Eli and Charlie Sisters are murdering psychopaths, but deWitt has created such fully-formed, life-like characters that you can’t help caring about, even rooting for the brothers as you turn the pages.

To analyze The Sisters Brothers and put it into a single category is extremely difficult.  It does not quite fit into historical fiction because deWitt didn’t worry about research or historical accuracy when writing the book. To him, it was more about enjoyable reading and engaging dialogue between the characters. The Sisters Brothers is also not quite a classic western because of its quirkiness, infusion of dark comedy, and edgy literary feel.  

This fast-paced and stylized story becomes even more unique with two intermissions inserted almost randomly into the book that have nothing to do with the story other than they are entertaining and have the same strange humor as the rest of The Sisters Brothers. The book’s cover art, created by Portland artist Dan Stiles, is also unusual and visually eye-catching with its offbeat graphic design and bold colorful shapes. 

The idea of The Sisters Brothers was born with a random exercise in dialogue writing.  DeWitt wrote a scene in which two men were riding side by side on horseback. He made one man overly confident and one man self-conscious and forced them to interact. Some time later, deWitt was at a garage sale and found a book about the California Gold Rush.  He decided to combine the Gold Rush era with the dialogue scene he had written earlier, and eventually The Sisters Brothers emerged. 

The Sisters Brothers is actually deWitt’s second book. He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed Absolutions: Notes for a Novel. DeWitt considers himself a self-taught writer who learned his craft by trail and error. He also enjoys screenwriting and has begun work on a new novel about an investment banker who flees the United States in order to avoid imprisonment.

Even if you are not a fan of the western genre, you will enjoy The Sisters Brothers for other reasons. It is engaging, original, full of action, and supported by a refreshing, witty writing style that is bound to make you a fan of Patrick deWitt and his unorthodox approach to storytelling. 

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.