Friday, May 31, 2013
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
5.0 out of 5 stars - Am I my brother's keeper?
This novel was brilliant, insightful, bitingly truthful, and held me rapt from the moment I opened the book to its first page. I've read several of Shriver's other books and loved them all -- each takes a central theme and then expounds on it in ways that the reader can't anticipate. You don't read a Shriver novel and walk away unchanged. The central question: how severe is the obesity epidemic and what can a single person do to change an outcome for one she loves?
In this story, Shriver handles the increasingly sensitive issue of weight. In fact, the situation is about how a younger sister deals with an obese older brother. Pandora is married to Fletcher and has two two teenaged stepchildren when she receives a call that ends with her invitation to her brother, Edison, to come to Iowa for a visit. A struggling jazz pianist, Edison arrives weighing over 350 pounds and has changed into someone that his sister doesn't recognize. During the visit, it becomes clear that Edison's problems have both led to and resulted from his massive weight gain. What can an adoring younger sister do but try to fix him, right?
Without spoilers, I will say that Pandora's decision and what happens next in the book will have the reader both cheering and sighing. A masterpiece of invention, Baby Monotonous -- the product made by a company that Pandora started and that has made her a well known and wealthy entrepreneur, is such an original idea that I hope this item is actually being made and is protected or patented!
The novel is about love in its many guises and the responsibility that a single person has to help another, to ensure their happiness and success, and to help someone change IF they can. How responsible are we for fixing the problems and issues of our siblings and how far must we go to help those who won't help themselves. If obesity is a form of slow suicide, it surely requires treatment other than changing perspectives or habits about food, eating, and diets. Can a sister save a brother? And what will it cost her?
It wasn't until after I finished this book and was raving about it online that I discovered that the author based this novel on her own brother who died from complications of obesity.
(http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2013/05/30/big-brother-lionel-shriver.html?cmp=rss) We are bombarded by media that indicates a definite change in the size and weight of humans -- how BIG is this problem and what can be done about it. Most importantly, how can it be prevented? There are no shortcuts to losing weight and it is much easier to put on than to take off. As Shriver says, a person is much more than how much they weigh, but society looks askance at the obese in a judgment that doesn't wholly believe that the individual is not completely responsible for becoming that way.
I highly recommend this book. Shriver is an incredible writer and has an acerbic wit combined with intelligent observation that will leave the reader thinking about these characters long after the final page is turned. Pandora, Edison, Fletcher...all the characters come alive and are so believable that you feel you actually know them. I was rooting for them all and holding my breath for a "big save"...
Review copy from Amazon Vine