Two English brothers unite after many years to make sense of the “bits and pieces” of memory, mortality and the thickness of blood in this poignant novel by Shearer (The Cloud Hunters, 2012, etc.).
Despite a recent surgery to remove his Stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme, a brain tumor the size of a billiard ball, milky-eyed, bushy-bearded Louis doesn’t have much time left. When his younger brother—the book's unnamed narrator—cares for him at his home in Australia, their cohabitation exposes the dysfunction, resentment and deep-seated friction between them. Louis, in childhood the stronger intellectually gifted brother, in adulthood has morphed into a bohemian who eschews traditional careers, hygiene and financial stability. The younger brother, “a disappointment from the start,” picks up the slack in his later years and now escorts Louis to his radiotherapy treatments, quizzes him about his bank PIN and replaces his broken tea kettle. Despite the brothers' witty, often playful exchanges, the narrator's care of Louis unleashes bitterness and jealousy. “To my mind, it had all been about Louis our whole lives….Which is no good to anybody—to be defined as simply being related to somebody else.” Shearer’s exquisite prose is most powerful when the younger brother comes to appreciate Louis’ quirks and unconventional choices and, in the end, eloquently grieves his passing. “We love whom we must, and then we grow, and love whom we will. But still we’re caught, like a fish with a swallowed hook, and we can swim downriver nearly all our lives, but end up getting tugged back to the past, to childhood, to our defenseless selves, and we are reeled in.”
This pensive, poetic novel, based loosely on Shearer’s own experience of losing his brother, humorously though sensitively expresses the complications of sibling relationships, the ambiguity of absolution, and the beauty of life in its last, tender moments.