In the winter of 2005, I read Virginia Woolf's Mrs.…
It’s 1851, and Charlie and Eli Sisters work for the Commodore, a corrupt leader who orders them to kill people who get in his way. The Commodore tells them to go to California to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, no questions asked. Charlie is a drunken killer and has no problem with the orders he received, but Eli isn’t as wicked as his brother, and on their ride across a couple states, their relationship slowly starts to crumble.
Their wild ride in Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers includes trouble with a rival gang leader, a dentist visit, a weeping man, a teen who was left behind, a foray into the California gold rush, and trouble with some horses. I can’t even tell you how much I loved Eli’s horse Tubs and what he goes through. I may have had a tear in my eye over a damn horse.
But I loved so much more than the horse. This was a great book. It was serious, funny at times, and a throwback to some old westerns where there is a grand, life-changing journey, like True Grit or Lonesome Dove, though the narrator here is more formal than in those journeys.
Eli tells the story, and he can be very formal and give great detail, but other times he’s funny and even vulgar, particularly about some of the murders they do. But what’s best about Eli is that we get his internal monologue. He’s contemplating changing his lifestyle, but he’s used to following along with his stronger, overbearing brother and feels trapped. I was fascinated with Eli and couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what would happen to him. His internal struggle, their struggles on the journey, and where this all goes was great.
I also loved the landscape and history in the book. We get an idea of the medical field at the time, both for humans and animals. We learn about the California gold rush and what San Francisco looked like at that time. We see all the political power plays that happen and the lawless way they are resolved. We learn about the harsh geography and traveling across it on horseback.
People have been telling me to read this book for awhile, and, again, they were right. This is a great book that could be widely read. Anyone interested in westerns or historical fiction would like this, but if you like following interesting characters, Eli is for you.