This spring Patrick deWitt published a darkly comic Western about a pair of hired guns during California’s gold rush. Tuesday night the 36-year-old novelist struck gold himself: “The Sisters Brothers” won the Governor General’s Award, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes.
It’s been an extraordinary year for the Canadian writer, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. “The Sisters Brothers,” deWitt’s second novel, was also a finalist for the Giller Prize, the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, which he won earlier this month. His booty from this sweep now totals almost $50,000.
For no reason that I can understand, Canadian novels are a notoriously hard sell in the United States. Americans rarely venture beyond the usual suspects: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro. But I thought Gil Adamson’s “The Outlander” was one of the best five novels of 2008, and I’m thrilled to see that Guy Vanderhaeghe has a new book coming out next spring.
If any Canadian novel deserves a chance in the lower 48, it’s deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers.” The story follows Eli and Charles Sisters as they track down a gold prospector who swindled their boss. It’s a classic Western woven through with mordant wit and tender sadness. (John C. Reilly snapped up the film rights so he could play one of the brothers himself.) We won’t publish our best of the year list till Dec. 11, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: “The Sisters Brothers” will be there.