When was the last time you read a real honest-to-goodness western? Have you read the covers off your favorite Louis L’Amour, Max Brand and Zane Grey? Maybe you read Charles Portis’ True Grit during all the movie hoopla and crave more of the same.
I picked up Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers at Square Books in Oxford last week and absolutely love the western. Funny thing, from the title I thought the storyline might be about Mormons or Catholic nuns.
I do not usually read the book blurb, but prefer to buy books based on awards and cover art. This cover had a round badge declaring its shortlist for the Man Booker prize; plus, the daguerreotype was stunning. Two brothers sit side-by-side with one holding a pistol and the other a knife in the 1800s photograph. Between the two sits a small table holding a bottle where they rest their hands that cradle glasses filled with drink.
Both young men are dressed to the nines with hats, coats and vests. The knife holder has a propensity for fight as demonstrated by his cauliflower ear and attitude-filled hat slant. He even looks ready to gut the photographer. The other brother is smaller in stature and seems delicate displaying a small chin and dainty earlobes. He turns his gun safely away giving the photographer only one brother to worry about.
It is easy to project the main characters’ personalities onto the daguerreotype. Eli and Charlie Sisters are hired gunslingers who work for the Commodore. Charlie would rather shoot a man than dicker with him over a price. Eli will discuss and analyze a situation before making a move. Charlie feels no guilt where Eli wears his own and his brother’s shame like a heavy yoke. In the cover art, Eli has to be the delicate soul where Charlie produces all kinds of swagger.
The storyline is very typical of westerns where the characters are always moving from one dusty town to the next. In the Sisters’ case, they are to hunt down a Californian prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm. The Commodore is vague with the reasons why and our brothers do not take the time to ask.
They head out from Oregon City to the Sacramento area on horses supplied by the Commodore. Charlie sits atop Nimble while Eli spreads out on Tub. Both horses named suitably. The adventure is off and the Sisters brothers promise an exciting journey.