Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers
I love Westerns. I love a good story. I love 300-page books with super-short chapters. I love funny dialogue. I love narrators who digress.
I loved this book.
My wife got it for me for Valentine’s Day. I’d never heard of it. 100 pages in, I started reading it really slowly because I didn’t want it to end.
After I finished, I read some interviews with DeWitt, and found out that the novel was sort of an accident.
After his first novel, he’d been thrown off the scent of story, and was more concerned with “voice,” but he got really bored with his reading habits, and started re-reading some older favorites of his, rediscovering story as a kind of constraint. (He says now of his reading habits, “The moment it begins to feel like homework, I head for something more welcoming.”)
Then one day he scribbled “sensitive cowboys” on a piece of paper. He started thinking about how the neurotic is rarely featured in Westerns, instead, the hero is usually a “near mute man in black who kicks the devil in the dick before breakfast.”
So he wrote “a testy exchange between two men riding side-by-side on horseback. One of them was self-doubting and vulnerable, while the other was confident to a fault.” He didn’t know what to do with it, so he set it aside. Later, he found a book about the Gold Rush at a yard sale, and he remembered the two men. He wrote about forty pages before he discovered they were brothers. He says writing the dialogue “at times I felt I was eavesdropping.”
In the book, the brothers head out to kill a man named “Hermann Kermit Warm.” This character came about after DeWitt cut a photo of a prospector out of the yard sale book and tacked it up on his wall. The name however,
I didn’t make it up. I stole it. I was watching Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and a Hermann Warm was credited as the art director. He’s got a Wikipedia page and everything. I added the Kermit, because I like the musicality of the added syllables, but really, I just lifted it.
Another fun tidbit: at some point he realized he was spending too much time on the internet, and that he’d actually never gotten a good idea from there, so he had his wife change the wifi password.
Anyways, this is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.