The Sisters Brothers has won numerous literary awards in Canada, including the Governor General’s Award, but I must have been living under a rock, because I had not heard of it until it was recommended by another CBR participant at the end of CBR III. There were some mixed reviews on Pajiba, so I was curious about how I would like it. When I picked it up by the library, I was pleased by the cover art – I think the design is quite striking and clever.
The title does not have a grammatical error – the story is about Eli and Charlie Sisters, brothers who are killers working for a criminal called the Commodore. The travel from Oregon to San Francisco to do a job, following the lead of another Commodore employee already watching their target in gold rush era San Francisco. There is a lot of hard riding, wanton killing, and witty repartee on the road, as one might expect. Charlie yearns to be a criminal mastermind like the Commodore, but Eli would like to leave the murdering business and run a store instead.
The description of their surroundings are brief and matter of fact, and much of the book is spent in dialogue. The story is told largely from Eli’s point of view, and he seems to be reflecting on the meaning of his life and his relationship with his brother. Once the Sisters meet up with their target, the book starts to more explicitly examine the motivations that people have for doing what they do.
I know the novel is supposed to be satirical, but I think that I do not know enough about Westerns to truly understand the satire. I also did not find it particularly funny, although I had heard that it was “darkly humorous.” I did think the characters were interesting, the story moved quickly, and I can appreciate how well written the novel is, but I did not love it.