Local author Patrick deWitt's great first novel, Ablutions, was the account of an unhappy bartender with a drinking problem. With novel number two, deWitt establishes himself as an author with surprising range: The Sisters Brothers is a western, about two hired guns and the man they're sent to kill.
The novel describes the path of Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they make their way from Oregon City to San Francisco in pursuit of a man with a mysterious formula. The formula, of course, has to do with gold, the lust for which drives just about every aspect of frontier life during the gold rush.
Despite its setting, The Sisters Brothers hardly qualifies as historical fiction—deWitt is more interested in establishing a distinct voice for his funny, flawed narrator, than in describing the setting with period accuracy. That said, the descriptions he does offer can be potent: In San Francisco, there are "so many ships at anchor that their masts looked to be tangled impossibly; hundreds of them packed together so densely as to give the appearance of a vast, limbless forest rolling on the tides."
The Sisters Brothers is markedly different from deWitt's previous work; the only similarity, in fact, is that Charlie Sisters spends most of the book battling hangovers. Maybe it's a mistake to look any further for a thematic throughline to deWitt's work so far—maybe he's taking on alcoholism through the ages, and his next novel will feature ale-swilling Round Table knights, or sake-doused geisha girls. Whatever it is, I'll read it.