The Sisters Brothers

This is a western novel, timeframe 1851. Narrator Eli Sisters and his big brother Charlie are hired killers for a guy named the Commodore. The Commodore kind of pisses off Eli a little because he assigns Charlie as the leader of their two man assassination team. Charlie is kind of an ass, but Eli loves him. Eli has a horse named Tub, which he’s not to fond of, but he accepts the beast willingly. Early in the book Eli had to have two teeth pulled and now he brushes his teeth every day. His life isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not that great.

Even though Charlie frustrates him, Eli listens to him for the most part; they’re a team and they set off from Oregon to California to kill a guy. On the way they kill other guys, but Eli struggles with it, even though he’s very efficient at it.

Eli is a strange duck. He’s one of the more original fictional characters I’ve come across in a long time. Of course, we’ve all met the killer with a heart, but Eli is a little different, he’s a killer who seems like he has a heart but really is just thoughtful and honest with a true willingness to change.

We’ll talk more, but first some admin items. I wish I knew where/when I discovered this book. It was short listed for the Man Booker Prize so I’m sure I saw it in some book review section somewhere. I wish I knew the source so I could be sure to revisit it because this was one of the freshest, coolest, most enjoyable stories I’ve read in a while. I was overjoyed reading it. I wanted it to slow down.

I need to thank Amazon for notifying me when this thing dropped to $2.99. They certainly saw that I had it on my Wish List so they included it on an email full of “book bargains”. Hey, that’s cool, I may never have gotten around to buying it but for the sale. Sitting here in the aftermath, it’s probably the best $2.99 I’ve ever spent on a book.

** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **

Don’t proceed if you’re going to read the book because even if these aren’t plot killers per se, it would be better if they unfolded naturally for you.

The backbone of this book is the changing relationship between Eli and his brother Charlie. Their relationship changes partly because Eli wants it to change and partly because of fate.

Eli wants to stop the killing and wants to settle down with a woman, neither of which are in his nature. He finds it easy to rationalize the life he’s chosen; he had an abusive childhood so he blames his dad; Charlie raised him so he feels he owes his brother; they’re really only killing other killers and criminals who probably deserve it to some degree. All these things seem to make it okay, to him.

But he’s motivated to change for some reason. He keeps pressing on his brother, relentlessly, until finally he makes some headway on their last job. The breakthrough comes when they decide not to kill the men they set out to and instead, because of some freak circumstances and Eli’s pushing, decide to join up with them on a gold mining venture, which has some short-term success.

During this brief period, Eli is the happiest he’s ever been. He says this:

This feeling, speaking personally, was brought on not only by the wealth our ever-growing piles of gold represented, but also from the thought that this experience was born of one man’s unique mind, and though I had never before pondered the notion of humanity, or whether I was happy or unhappy to be human, I now felt a sense of pride at the human mind, it’s curiosity and perseverance; I was obstinately glad to be alive, and glad to be myself. (pg. 283)

But this isn’t a movie with a quick and happy ending. Tragedy ensues and how Eli and Charlie handle it make up the most moving part of the book. Two human beings are forced to grow up very quickly in the face of hardship, which doesn’t lead to happiness.

No one comes out unscathed. The death and bloodshed though is not meted out so harshly on Eli because he was not greedy.

This is the most fun I’ve had reading in a while. It was funny (in a dark way), and violent, and tense, and unpredictable. I loved the ending – not happy, warm.