Monday, October 29, 2012

Musings: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers
Patrick deWitt's novel The Sisters Brothers has gotten a lot of attention since its publication.  Not only does it have a seriously awesome cover (seriously awesome), but it also made it to the Booker Prize long list.  And it's a western!

So, what's the book about?  Quite frankly, I'm not sure.  I swear, this time I really paid attention to the audiobook.  The narrator is fantastic, with this dry, droll voice who doesn't seem to have much of a sense of humor but captures the tone of Eli perfectly.  But even after spending 7+ hours listening to Eli Sister narrate this tale, I don't quite know what the book is about.

Eli is the narrator - he's a chubby hit man who has followed his older brother Charlie around his whole life.  But on their latest job, Eli starts to have a change of heart.  He doesn't want to kill for a living.  He wants to settle down with a good woman (though he doesn't seem to have the best taste in women) and open some sort of store.  The story meanders through the frontier as the brothers search for their newest target - the only problem is, once they find him, Eli realizes that he quite likes the guy.

Eli has a fantastic narrative voice.  He has serious vulnerabilities - he misses his mom, wishes his brother would drink less, and is saddened every time he realizes that a woman has not lived up to the ideals he set for her.  His horse, Tubs, is pretty useless, but he does everything he can to make life comfortable for him.  Eli is pretty much the blueprint for the "former bad boy/rake/villain/gangster who is trying to reform himself/turn over a new leaf/leave his reputation behind," etc.

The book felt to me like more a series of vignettes than one cohesive story.  A lot of things happen that are not very related  to each other.  I didn't mind this, really, because Eli is such an engaging narrator.  But I was surprised that the book ended where it did, mostly because I thought there was so much else that could still happen to the characters.  I'd love to know how the rest of Eli's life went, if he was able to stay on the straight and narrow like he wished. 

I am not sure that there is higher praise for me to give this book than to say that the audiobook version kept my attention the whole way through.  That does not happen often, I tell ya.  While this book wasn't exactly what I expected (though I didn't really have expectations going into it, I admit), it was a lot of fun to listen to, and Eli was so wonderful to get to know.  Yet another book that proves that, for me, characters > plot.

19 comments:

  1. I've owned this one for a while, I really need to get around to reading it! I quite like the sound of a series of vignettes and like you I appreciate character driven novels. Glad you enjoyed this one :)

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    1. Yes, it was a lot of fun. Really good as an audiobook, too.

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  2. I bought this one at the Borders closing sale, and I can't wait to get to it. I have loved all the reviews I have seen, and your assertion that this is more of a character driven novel really excites me. I love it when the characters in a novel are people that I can relate to and care about. You've just made this one jump up in the pile, so thanks for your great review. It sounds like a book I am going to love!

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    1. I think you'll enjoy it, too, Heather, as you value character development a lot, too. It's a slow-moving book, but one with a lot of heart.

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  3. I'm still on the fence about whether to read this or not. Plot and characters are both important to me, with plot being maaaaaaaybe a smidge more important. I do get frustrated when a book meanders about not getting to the point (or not having a point).

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    1. Well, it's possible this book did have a point and it was got to and perhaps I just missed it? It was an entertaining diversion, nonetheless.

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  4. I love this book SO MUCH! I agree that there could have been more done, and it maybe could have been better, but I just genuinely LOVE it so much that I don't care! Eliiiiiiiiiii <3

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    1. He IS pretty heart-worthy.

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  5. Eli ended up being a total surprise. I wasn't expecting him to be so introspective.

    And I agree...a most excellent cover!

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    1. Yes, who'd have thought? I LOVED his awkwardly formal way of talking, too. Or maybe that wasn't formal but just the way people talked in those days? Either way, I enjoyed it.

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  6. I like the sound of it, especially the western theme. I guess I can see why the author might've thought it worked (the way you suggest the vignettes) but also why you found it less cohesive. I suppose the thoughts of Eli make it a good storytelling option.

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    1. Yes, Eli is a man whose head is a fascinating place. Horrible sentence structure on my part there, but hopefully you know what I mean.

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  7. You make this one sound so good. I like the premise and will have to give it a try one of these days.

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    1. I hope you do! I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

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  8. Jannakay10/30/2012

    I read this one last year, I think (when it was long listed for the Booker) and really enjoyed it. Charlie is, as you note, a great narrative voice and it's quite an adventure seeing the world (including older brother Eli, "Mother" and the various odd folks Charlie encounters) through his eyes. Also very, very funny in, as you say, a very dry way. The mix of violence, grostesquerie and humor made this book quite a reading experience; I put the author on my "I'll check out this guy's next book" list.

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    1. You're right - there is a mix of grotesquerie and humor!

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  9. I'm terrible at summarizing things, but what has lingered with me about this one is that Eli's entire existence seemed to be structured about his "job" and the books begs the question of what happens to someone when they decide that they don't want to "be" what they "do" anymore. What makes this story truly remarkable though (besides the nature of his "work"), as you've said, is that you actually care what happens to Eli, who seems like someone you'd have a lot of trouble relating to...but that's not the case. I've got deWitt's earlier novel, Ablutions on my list now: you?

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    1. As always, you are so eloquent at this sort of thing! I do like when authors subvert characters and make you react to them in ways that you wouldn't normally. For example, would anyone who actually *spoke* to Eli find him likeable? It's unlikely. But seeing him through the eyes of his brother makes it much easier to do so.

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  10. I thought this book was so much for for the ways it flew in the face of genre expectations. I love books that are humorously subversive of their genre (Fables graphic novels come to mind). I agree that it felt a great deal like vignettes. Overall, a pleasant surprise for me. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I bet the audio is great.

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