The Sisters Brothers (Anansi, 2011)
Description (from the publisher)
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. Eli and Charlie Sisters can be counted on for that. Though Eli has never shared his brother's penchant for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else. On the road to Warm's gold-mining claim outside San Francisco—and from the back of his long-suffering one-eyed horse—Eli struggles to make sense of his life without abandoning the job he's sworn to do.
DeWitt spins a violent, lustful, hung-over and humorous odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier. Doffing his hat to the classic Western, he then transforms it into a comic tour-de-force with an unforgettable narrative voice that captures all the absurdity, melancholy, and grit of the West -- and of these two brothers, bound to each other by blood and scars and love.
Film rights have been sold to actor John C. Reilly's production company in a major deal, with Reilly to play one of the brothers.
What the Tiny Monkey thinks
If I hadn't recently read Charles Portis' classic western True Grit, I would have claimed The Sisters Brothers to have a glorious style and cadence utterly unique to me. I can see that deWitt has perhaps co-opted the overall style of another (an arguable point, as his first novel Ablutions [a terrific read as well] has much of the same voice), but who cares when the result is this much fun? Very likely my favourite read of 2011, deWitt has created a profane, violent, funny, and just plain awesome piece of work, and the fact that this novel—written by a Canadian who has long made the U.S. his home, and with nary a mention of Canada anywhere—is up for major Canadian awards tickles me. deWitt's dialogue is superb, laden with dry wit, and the characters of Eli and Charlie are wonderfully done, the perfect mixture of psychotic killers and melancholy dreamers. Some have complained that deWitt's style is too 'cinematic' to be considered literature (who ever complained of a movie being too literate?); I say, it's not the story, it's how you tell it, and deWitt tells his story superbly in a style that completely suits the story. I wish more novels were this bloody alive: dialogue as rich, subtle, and memorable as this is hardly any easier than obtuse poetic descriptions of windswept Canada prairies (I'm being snarky, I know, sue me). The cinematic possibilities are present, of course—the Coen brothers desperately need to get their hands on this; keep John C. Reilly as Eli, add Philip Seymour Hoffman as Charlie—but merely because a movie can be envisioned is no excuse for needless denigration. The Sisters Brothers is a major achievement, as gutsy and vital and just damned entertaining a novel as you could hope for.