I’m a fan of a light read. Books that feel like work are often rewarding, but being a movie buff makes me slightly impatient. Sometimes all I need is to sit back and devour a really simple-to-read book. I would never claim that The Da Vinci Code is well-written, or even that it’s particularly good, but I still read it in the space of hours in a single night. One rare occasions I stumble upon that wonderful gift, a book that has the artistic heft of a difficult read and the light prose of a J.K. Rowling. Such is the case with Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, a revisionist Western of sorts that I managed to read in the space of a day.
Told from the point of view of Eli Sisters, the book follows the travels of Eli and his brother, Charlie, from Oregon City to San Francisco on a mission to kill a man. But unlike other Western tales of tracking and revenge, the man they aim to kill, Hermann Kermit Warm, has done them no wrong. Their employer has assigned them to kill him, and this is hardly their first such job for the man. As with any road story, they meet colourful characters along the way and get into tense and exciting altercations. Typical stuff.
What sets The Sisters Brothers apart is deWitt’s effortless writing style. The words flow off the page in a most enjoyable way, but much like Charles Portis’ True Grit there is a sense of worldliness about the story. This isn’t some mere shoot’em up Western. Eli’s journey is one of deep reflection on his path through life and the things that motivate him and give him comfort. Murder is not a light matter in his world, but neither is it something too deeply shocking. It’s a part of his life that he is giving serious consideration to. What is it all for? Can Eli settle into a normal life.
In a way, The Sisters Brothers could be read as a prequel of sorts to Clint Eastwood’s film, Unforgiven. This is the story of two men coming to terms with the ill morality and utter pointlessness of their current lives. Their settling down may not be permanent. This “one last job” may not be their last, and their past may come back to call on them. That’s all speculative, though. The book itself offers more than enough wit and wisdom to both entertain and leave you thinking. It’s a light read with heavy meaning. My favourite kind of book.