Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Big Brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins; 6/4/2013
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061458576 

When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn't recognize him. In the four years since the siblings last saw each other, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?
And it's not just the weight. Imposing himself on Pandora's world, Edison breaks her husband Fletcher's handcrafted furniture, makes overkill breakfasts for the family, and entices her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school.
After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It's him or me. Putting her marriage and adopted family on the line, Pandora chooses her brother—who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave.
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 we'll sacrifice to rescue single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.
My Thoughts:

Although I featured Big Brother by Lionel Shriver in an earlier post  because my review copy arrived late, I finally found the time to read the book. As I said previously,  "Her current novel again focuses on today's current headlines/obsessions. This time it is a family's  destructive relationship with food. Pandora was a caterer. Now married to Fletcher, she cooks to show love. Her brother, Edison, is using food to ease his pain and has gained hundreds of pounds."

Pandora is also a successful owner of a start-up business and even while she downplays her accomplishments, they are truly remarkable. Her husband, Fletcher, has become a health-consumed food Nazi and compulsive exercise junkie who makes handmade furniture in their basement, most of which he is unable to sell. Adding to this already potentially stressful marital situation are Fletcher's two teenagers and a visit from Pandora's now morbidly obese brother, Edison. Even while Pandora is cracking under the strict disciplines her husband wants to live under, she views Edison's life without rules as a cry for help.

While the subject matter may make people squirm and look over their shoulder in the mirror or jump on that scale one more time, the issues Shriver raises and brings to our attention in this intelligent, very timely novel are worth the price some of us might pay in discomfort.
I've lived with a food Nazi and the rules they want to impose on everyone around them is simply a way for them to strive to control other people. It doesn't work and will always cause dissension in the ranks. On the other hand, Edison's incredible girth is undeniably unhealthy. But the real question is can you truly help your family by trying to control them or their behavior even if you are doing it for all the right reasons? And beyond that can anyone control the behavior of others?
Shriver wrote an article about body image: Warning: I Will Employ the Word 'Fat'

"A complex, conflicted relationship to the body isn’t the exclusive preserve of the overweight. To a modest extent, we can control its contours and influence its functionality, but in the main the body is a card we’ve been arbitrarily dealt. Looking in the mirror, we both recognize ourselves and don’t. Are we what we see? What unpleasant surprises about our true natures will emerge when the body falters from illness, age, or accident? Whatever our sizes, in time the body will betray us all. Thus it’s in everyone’s interest to maintain a sharp distinction between, as my narrator in Big Brother puts it, “the who” and “the what.” "

Yet, again, Shriver's use of language leaves me humbled and admiring. She always uses the exact word to say or describe her scenes or characters. Have you ever, like me, muttered while writing, "No, that's not the word I want - it's like that word but that's not it..."and struggled trying to get the exact word you are searching for untangled from your mind? Lionel Shriver is an incredibly gifted wordsmith. Add that talent to her story telling ability and it leaves me in awe. This may not have been my all-time favorite Lionel Shriver novel, but it is most certainly very highly recommended.  

Disclosure:I received my advanced reading copy from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

No comments: