“The rough estimate of these riches was set at fifteen thousand dollars; my take of this more than tripled my savings, and as we left the musty basement, heading up the stairs and into the light, I felt two things at once: a gladness at this turn of fortune, but also an emptiness that I did not feel more glad; or rather, a fear that my gladness was forced or false. I thought, perhaps a man is never meant to be truly happy. Perhaps there is no such thing in our world, after all.”
I think Eli Sisters would be the first to tell you that breaking in new horses is a lot easier than that of altering the mood of a set-in-his-ways older brother. Especially when said older brother does not love, admire or respect you the way that you do him; I guess unrequited love can take many forms. Although they are family and a team, per se, Charlie tends to make it more of a solitary arrangement than a partnership. Before establishing a working arrangement with the commanding figure known simply as the Commodore, Charlie was happy and innocent. Although he was raised to fight to the death by his violent father, Charlie still maintained a level of playfulness and jocularity about his being. Once becoming a trusted, talented and loyal employee, he became guarded around people and hardened to life’s small pleasures. Given his task of being the deliverer of death and his family responsibility of keeping his younger brother Eli above ground, Charlie had become a heavy drinker with brandy being his liquor of choice. As time goes on his hackles have permanently been raised and he has made it a point to keep everyone at a distance, that is unless he needs some relief from the fairer sex.
“My very center was beginning to expand, as it always did before violence, a toppled pot of black ink covering the frame of my mind, it’s contents ceaseless, uanccountably limitless. My flesh and scalp started to ring and tingle and I became someone other than myself, or I became my second self, and this person was highly pleased to be stepping from the murk and into the living world where he might do just as he wished. I felt at once both lust and disgrace and wondered, Why do I relish this reversal to animal?
With a widely-regarded reputation for thievery and violence, Charlie and Eli Sisters have a difficult time shedding their image for that of another, less threatening one. I suppose you can say that working for the Commodore has brought out the worst in these two, but the worst has brought them some great rewards. Now everything seems to be coming to a head as the Commodore has assigned them the responsibility of killing a gold prospector at the opposite end of the coast in California. It’s 1851 in Oregon City and with a trip to San Francisco beckoning, it would probably be best that the two brothers have healthy and game horses for their extensive journey. Unfortunately the horses have become perfect representations of their prospective riders as Charlie is riding an equally as capable horse named Nimble while Eli is riding a slightly-rotund horse appropriately named Tub. Like Eli, Tub is not accustomed to a gentle touch and currently is in a not-best-suited state for the job ahead of them. When your own lives are at stake it’s not advisable to worry about your newfound horses, you’ve got to worry about one thing at a time, and for Eli he has enough on his plate; sketchy, fat, apprehensive horse notwithstanding.
During a time when most people are looking to strike it rich with the emergence of the gold rush, Charlie and Eli Sisters are looking to make good on their end of a job that will leave another man dead in their wake. The killing business can be a little trying at times, as jobs, like the local watering hole, it can dry up, and for these two transgressors they are always happiest when they have something to do. At this opportune time for one and inopportune for the other, the Commodore has asked the brothers to kill an intelligent, albeit strange older man named Herman Kermit Warm who has been accused of thievery. At the rooster’s call Charlie and Eli set off to embark on their next journey and deliver justice the only way they know how, but they will also have to deal with feelings that have previously eluded them, but are now settling in, in the dangerous expanses of the wild west. They will encounter whores, red-pelted bears, assassins, prospectors, wild animals, adolescent con artists and other unseemly presences as they head south remembering that there are no morals in the wild west only life and death.
The Sisters Brothers is a story of taking the reins of your own life, controlling your own destiny in the neverending pursuit of happiness. This book started off very promising by establishing the personalities of the lead characters, the instabilities of the various environments that they find themselves in, and the unpredictable nature that the middle of the nineteenth century can bring. My attention was focused on the story as it brought about grizzly bears, spiders, unabashed violence, good cop / bad cop routine, and unsatisfactory dentistry procedures. However; it became lost on the journey to the end of the book as monotony of life on horseback set in as well as the complacency of the brothers became more clear. When a book begins as effectively as this one did, it started ringing alarm bells that this critically-acclaimed novel was actually deserving of the hype, consequently it heightened my own expectations, but ultimately failed to live up to them. My fault, or the novels, it doesn’t really matter as I was still disappointed. The author utilized great descriptive measures to provide a vivid picture of what was going on, putting the reader in the characters shoes as extremely painful, and queasy as they may have been. He also manages to write a historical fiction without overindulgence into the timely manner of speaking, or other common practices. Being an inexperienced historical fiction reader I can appreciate the way he delivered his material without compromising the importance of time. Although I felt the story did not live up to expectations, it was still a solid read and a good way to throw a wrench in my normal patterns of reading.
“Mother was sleeping in the wagon, drugged, and I left her there to rush out and see about you. I had not thought of you getting burned – my concern was that a coyote might have come along and picked you apart, or that you had walked down to the river and drowned. So I was very relieved to see you sitting there in one piece, and I ran down the hill to collect you. And you were just as red and burned as could be. The whites of your eyes turned red as blood. You were blind for two weeks and your skin peeled away in swaths like the skin of an onion. And that, Eli, is how you got your freckles.”