In Eli and Charlie we have two men with only each other for company, moving through a series of temporary relationships with the locals of various towns along the way.
They are on a mission to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. The novel does not follow a traditional narrative arc. These minisodes in the lives of our heroes are, blessedly, not brought around full circle to connect Crash-style.
Before the movie, ‘The Sisters Brothers’ was a darkly funny novel by Patrick deWitt
Rather they serve to let us get to know the brothers better, particularly Eli, whose simultaneously endearing and unnerving voice provides the novel with the legs it needs to get through its free-floating plot. When the brothers zero in on their mark, the book settles into a more conventional plot structure, which is not to say it becomes conventional.
In fact, when we discover who Hermann Kermit Warm is and why the Commodore wants him dead, the whole thing proves to be so weird that technically, it may qualify as speculative fiction. And I suppose this should have bothered me, should have made me feel that the writer was cheating somehow.
DeWitt integrates his own brand of craziness into the pre-existing craziness that is part and parcel of the Western. He throws literal truth aside to free up the way for emotional truth. It is plain to see it, but it is so bold as to be unfathomable.
The Sisters Brothers is a valiant effort to break the rules and make it work anyway, and DeWitt gets away with it surprisingly frequently. Sign up for our newsletter to get submission announcements and stay on top of our best work. Enjoy strange, diverting work from The Commuter on Mondays, absorbing fiction from Recommended Reading on Wednesdays, and a roundup of our best work of the week on Fridays.
Personalize your subscription preferences here. Oregon, Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm.
REVIEW: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. And they bicker a lot.