Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Marie C. Reviews The Sisters Brothers
I picked up The Sisters Brothers because I had time to kill at the airport one day and because my friend Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand said it was great. Well, it is. It is great.
Set in the Gold Rush days of California and Oregon, The Sisters Brothers tells the story of a pair of hired killers and their last big job. Eli and Charlie Sisters are sent to kill Hermann Kermit Warm; Warm has invented a formula for finding gold and their boss wants the formula. Eli narrates the story, and he is a wonderful fictional creation. I don't know how to describe Eli except to say he's a nerd who ended up in the wrong profession. Overweight and bumbling, with a horse as desperate as himself for love and affection, he grows in self-confidence as events go slowly and tragically awry. When the story opens, Charlie is the "lead man," the one who fancies himself in charge. But little by little, slowpoke Eli takes the reins. Eli has a quiet charm and likability that almost make me forget he's a serial killer on a mission.
I have to say, I really loved this book. The story follows their adventures as they chase, and eventually find, Warm and his companion. Along the way they stay in flophouse hotels, shop for clothes, try to seduce women and even learn to brush their teeth. It's a picaresque that never gets dull and never ever loses its way. I can see why it was shortlisted for 2011's Man Booker Prize, although as a Western it seems at first glance an unlikely choice for a prestigious European literary award. But it really is that good.
And it's funny. Like, not exactly laugh-out-loud funny but chuckle-enough-to-get-attention funny. Eli has a terrific sense of humor and the situations the brothers find themselves in are frequently absurd to hilarious. Reading The Sisters Brothers makes me want to pick up my Charles Portis stash, or try something else outside my comfort zone. It's just as great a time as I've had reading all year. I'd strongly recommend it to just about any reader. There is some violence but nothing too graphic- although that one scene where the horse's eye- well, you'll see what I mean, no pun intended, if you take my advice and pick up this wonderful novel.