Big Brother is a striking novel about siblings, marriage, and obesity from Lionel Shriver, the acclaimed author the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin .
For Pandora, cooking is a form of love.
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Big Brother is a striking novel about siblings, marriage, and obesity from Lionel Shriver, the acclaimed author the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin.
For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the "toxic" dishes that he'd savored through their courtship, and spends hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn't recognize him. In the years since they've seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It's him or me.
Rich with Shriver's distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) returns to the family in this intelligent meditation on food, guilt, and the real (and imagined) debts we owe the ones we love. Ex-caterer Pandora has made it big with a custom doll company that creates personal likenesses with pull-string, sometimes crude, catch phrases. The dolls speak to the condition of these characters—all trapped in destructive relationships with food (and each other): Pandora cooks to show love, to the delight of her compulsively fit husband Fletcher, whose refusal to eat diary or vary from his biking routine are the outward manifestation of his remove. Pandora’s brother Edison eats to ease the pain of a stalled music career and broken marriage. And both live somewhat uncomfortably in the shadow of their father’s TV fame. In Big Brother, nothing reveals character more scathingly than food. Early in the book, the nearly 400-pound Edison arrives—waddling through an Iowa airport with a “ground eating galumph”—a man transformed in the four years since his sister last saw him. He brings the novel energy as well as an occasionally unpalatable maudlin drama. But Pandora will risk everything, including her own health, to save him. If this devotion and Pandora’s increasing success with Edison’s diet plan sometimes seem chirpily false, a late reveal provides devastating justification. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (June)
A profound tale of family and food
How far would you go to rescue a sibling hurtling down the path to self-destruction? That’s the question Lionel Shriver poses in this bighearted novel about a sister’s battle to curb her brother’s epic overeating—a story that challenges some of our facile assumptions about weight, body image and the sometimes complicated daily encounter with one of life’s most mundane and sublime activities.
When down-on-his-luck jazz pianist Edison Appaloosa rolls into baggage claim at the Cedar Rapids Airport in an extra-wide wheelchair, his younger sister Pandora Halfdanarson is left nearly speechless. In the four years since she’s last seen him he’s added more than 200 pounds, a weight gain so massive he’s lost three inches of height. Pandora and Edison share the burden of a difficult past, as children of a father who once starred in a now long-forgotten television drama that blurred the boundary between real life and fantasy for both of them.
Edison settles in for an extended visit. From the first, his presence provokes conflict with Pandora’s husband, an obsessive cyclist and “nutritional Nazi” who gazes in horror on Edison’s feats of consumption. On the eve of her brother’s departure from Iowa, Pandora, the creator of a wildly successful line of snarky customized pull-string dolls called Baby Monotonous, decides to abandon her family and move into an apartment with Edison to manage his radical, nearly life-threatening weight loss program.
The second half of the novel traces the rocky course of that experiment. As Edison’s weight falls, his self-esteem rises, but Pandora, who has her own tangled relationship with food, must also struggle with the toll her choice of brother over husband and teenage stepchildren exacts on her family. Making effective use of the intimate, almost claustrophobic, settings of her novel, Shriver consistently delivers whip-smart, often witty dialogue and pungent character insights that add powerful momentum to what, at its heart, remains a simple story.
Only a writer of Shriver’s talent and courage would attempt a denouement as daring as the one that plays out over the novel’s final 15 pages. She succeeds by creating something that does much more than tie up plot threads and usher her characters off the stage. Instead, she makes us appreciate anew how profound the emotional and psychological issues of family and food are, deepening our empathy along with our admiration for the unquestionable skill she displays in doing it.