two wild horses in a desert scrub

There was some kind of trouble with the horses.

I knew this because part one of the novel is called “Trouble with the Horses.” Indeed, by the time I had finished reading the first two pages, I had learned quite a lot—considering the limited number of words there—about certain troubles involving certain horses. And then, to underscore what I had learned, the narrator of The Sisters Brothers ends his initial, little, two-page section by informing me, “This was the trouble with the horses.”

I had to admit—the situation RE the horses did seem troublesome. And in more ways than one.

But so as not to spoil the read for you, let’s talk more generally about The Sisters Brothers. What a delightful title, for a delightful novel, with a delightful cover!

The title refers to the two main characters: brothers whose last name is Sisters. Ha!

The novel is a literary Western. It’s set in 1851, in Oregon Territory and California, during the gold rush; but this is no ordinary shoot-’em-up. It’s too quirky, too comical, too ironic, and too sweet. Ha!

The cover of my paperback copy shows a daguerreotype, circa 1852, titled Portrait of two young men. The two are wearing the old-fashioned suits and hats of the era and holding weapons and glasses of hard liquor. It’s a stunning image, but its most interesting feature is the blood-stained bullet hole in one of the young men’s vests. The Wild West, indeed. Ha!

Though it’s a stunning and historically authentic cover, the image doesn’t match the descriptions of the characters in the book. But that’s all right with me. What sits less well with me is the sticker.

Upon pulling the book from the bookstore shelf, I noticed a circular sticker on the cover that read “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE.” This, from my irredeemably literary perspective, was something of a turn-off. However, I persevered in buying the book, since I had read good things about it and its author, Patrick deWitt.

Upon arriving home, I peeled off the sticker: and, lo and behold, guess what was underneath? A circular icon that read “SHORTLISTED for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE.” Whoa—now we’re talking! That’s my favorite literary award! The book would have been a shoo-in for my cart (that is, my arms), had it been visible. But such is our world, that the preferred advertisement for a book is not its recognition by a highly regarded literary award, but its transformation into a new work, in another art form, that may well turn out to be so different from the original as to hardly merit the same title.

That being said, the reading experience was cinematic. It is a book that is eminently worthy, in my opinion, of both prestigious awards and Hollywood.

Have you had any trouble with horses lately?