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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.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
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!
43 of 50 people found this review helpful