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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed author of the National Book Award finalist So Much for That and the international best seller We Need to Talk About Kevin comes a striking new novel about siblings, marriage, and obesity.
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.
©2013 Lionel Shriver (P)2013 HarperCollinsPublishers
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Jacqueline on 07-17-13

Well worth the credit--

This author is becoming one of my favorites. Starting with the deep, complex story of striving, grief and eventually a very satisfying ending in "So Much for That"--I have been hooked on her novels. If you have not tried her yet---you are missing out on a unique talent.

Big brother is completely enthralling from the first paragraph to the last. Told from the view point of Pandora who is married and the step-mom of two teenagers---the family is faced with making room in their lives when Pandora's obese brother moves in with them for a "visit" - and it soon becomes obvious he has no real plans to leave. Her brother had been a musician and quite fit last time she saw him-- about four years ago. Apparently he fell on hard times and decided to eat his way to feeling better. Lately he has been living on the couch of a friend, who has had all he can take of the freeloader.

Pandora's husband has an especially hard time as he is a health nut who is committed to eating only healthy food and exercising religiously. Just the presence of Pandora's brother seems to irritate him, and he encourages her to cut the visit short. As the families routines and relationships start to wear thin, Pandora decides to help her brother lose weight (so she won't feel guilty just sending him back home in his current condition) --thinking this will be kind of a new start to his life.

With the main story being the brother and his issues, the little sub-plots are all woven in expertly to bring everything together. A lot of dialogue goes on in Pandora's own head as she reasons with herself about her own actions and what she sees the end goal to be.

Lionel Shriver is always surprising, though, in how her novels all have some kind of twist that you don't expect. This was no exception. A complete pleasure to listen to this one.

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14 of 14 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Pamela Harvey on 07-04-13

Shriver's Super-sized Best!

Once again Shriver treads the tough path through the weeds and delivers a novel that is so overstuffed and super-sized with conflict that every sentence is a gift that leaves us waiting eagerly for the next one. WIthin the novel she deftly embeds the issues of fame & notoriety, the role of food in our lives, the relative importance of family and loyalty, the role of addiction and the "addictive personality" - she gives us all of it!

Shriver's protagonist, Pandora Hafdinarsen, the almost-accidental but successful entrepreneur is jolted out of her comfort zone when her brother, a jazz pianist who is having a "rough patch", arrives in their home weighing 240 pounds more than he did the last time she saw him. This causes all manner of mayhem, particularly offending the aesthetic sensibilities of her husband, Fletcher, who is a designer and builder of art furniture in the basement of the home he shares with Pandora and his two pre-adolescent children. He is additionally an exercise maniac, riding his bicycle 50 miles per day, and a "nutritional nazi", shunning all white flour, white sugar and anything that's wrapped, packaged or processed, his primary meal consisting of brown rice and broccoli. His body is lean and spare, the perfect contrast to the excessively over-nourished-by-junk-food Edison, Pandora's brother, for whom all sorts of spatial and emotional accommodations must be made as they all attempt to deal with his extreme girth.

This is the main plot setup, but woven through the story are musings about food (she's also a former caterer) and its importance (and lack thereof), addiction, fame, loyalty, and what it means to be "successful". Pandora feels divided between her husband and her brother and this forms the fulcrum on which the novel balances perfectly, delicately, and with the precision we've come to love and admire in Shriver's writing.

I have read some reviews on other sites and there seems to be some discussion about the ending. As a reader I favor neither a 'perfect' resolution nor an open-ended plot line - what makes a novel work for me is the writer's attention to detail, characterization, layers of emotion and sense of place. It's more about the story itself, the process, rather than any particular event that signals "the end", and with "Big Brother", IMO ending is organic to the story.

Five stars all around!

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43 of 50 people found this review helpful

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