Carl and Eli Sisters are two hired guns on the West Coast during the California Gold Rush era. We follow them from their hometown of Oregon City to San Francisco to the foothills of the Sierra. They are hired gunmen and their target this time is a prospector who may have found a way to discover gold using science. Along the way, we learn the complexities of being a gunslinger that is often times overlooked in many of our Westerns as well as the fact that these brothers share many of the same qualities and complexities that modern brothers exhibit.
Patrick DeWitt unravels some of the myth around Western gunslingers. He makes them in seem more complex and less heroic, more relatable yet more detestable. I appreciated this more “human” look at this American archetype. Too often I feel we tend to romanticize the West and the people who settled it. With nostalgia has come a gloss of denial. Ultimately, The Sisters Brothers are no John Waynes.
DeWitt’s honest portrayal of the West and life in the West made me appreciate it. While I’m not from that era, clearly, having lived in California, Washington, and Nevada, I appreicated the way in which nature is portrayed not just as a setting but as a character unto itself. I think that the West tends to be seen today as some hippie-leftist bastion, while we forget that it was. It’s neither villainized nor romanticized.
There’s also a surprising character, Eli’s horse Tug, who represents the relationship between man and nature and how man tends to destroy the latter. Trigger warning: animals are harmed in the plot of this book. Again though, it’s not maudlin. It’s honest and, what I believe, contributed to the sometimes aloof vibe that many Nor Cal folks give off.