Last week, Books on Tap, Northbrook Public Library's book club in a pub, met to discuss The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.
The Sisters Brothers is a tale of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are infamous assassins hired to kill a man named Herman Kermit Warm, during the time-period of the Gold Rush. The book was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and has won numerous literary awards.
I always begin my discussions by going around the group and having everyone introduce themselves and give a general impression of what they thought of the book - did they love it - did they hate it - and so on. This discussion, I tried something new, and asked members to select a word or phrase that they would use to describe the book. The outcome was very positive and a lot of these words and phrases help shape the rest of the discussion. Some of the words they used were:
The mention of Homeric was a great jumping off point to discuss all the characters and quirks of the story, such as the Crying Man, and the Intermissions that are placed throughout the story. One member compared the story to The Odyssey, and many agreed this was a good comparison. One person pointed out that these small, Homeric episodes humanized the brothers, specifically Eli.
We also talked about the Western genre and whether this book could be called a Western or not. One member pointed out that Westerns are usually about the heroes, but this book is about the guys who are hunting the hero. Another person pointed out how bleak the book feels, which is so different from the gaudy and flashy Westerns of the past, like Bonanza.
Humor was a big topic as well. Some saw the book very funny, while others only found the book disturbing. All agreed that the humor is very dark, and not going to make everyone laugh.
Finally I asked the group if this book reminded them of anything else. One person mentioned the television show Lockup, a documentary series about prison inmates. She found the two similar because the show humanizes a group of normally demonized individuals. I mentioned the book True Grit by Charles Portis because it seemed like a good read-alike for the book, especially in terms of writing style and time-period.
The Sisters Brothers was one of the best discussions of my career. It was just that perfect combination of the right book, the right people, and the right time. I would highly suggest considering this title for your library book discussion. You can access the questions that I used for our meeting here.