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BIG BROTHER by Lionel Shriver Kirkus Star

BIG BROTHER

By Lionel Shriver

Pub Date: June 4th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-145857-6
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

A woman is at a loss to control her morbidly obese brother in the latest feat of unflinching social observation from Shriver (The New Republic, 2012, etc.).

Pandora, the narrator of this smartly turned novel, is a happily settled 40-something living in a just-so Iowa home with her husband and two stepchildren and running a successful business manufacturing custom dolls that parrot the recipient’s pet phrases. Her brother, Edison, is a New York jazz pianist who’s hit the skids, and when he calls hoping to visit for a while, she’s happy to assist. But she’s aghast to discover he’s ballooned from a trim 163 to nearly 400 pounds. Edison can be a pretentious blowhard to start with, and his weight makes him an even more exasperating houseguest, clearing out the pantry, breaking furniture and driving a wedge in Pandora’s marriage. So Pandora concocts a scheme: She’ll move out to live with Edison while monitoring his crash diet of protein-powder drinks. The book is largely about weight and America’s obesity epidemic; Shriver writes thoughtfully about our diets and how our struggle to find an identity tends to lead us toward the fridge, and she describes our fleshy flaws with a candor that marks much of her fiction. But the book truly shines as a study of family relationships. As Pandora spends a year as Edison’s cheerleader, drill sergeant and caregiver, Shriver reveals the complex push and pull between siblings and has some wise and troubling things to say about guilt, responsibility and how what can seem like tough love is actually overindulgence. The story’s arc flirts with a cheeriness that’s unusual for her, but a twist ending reassures us this is indeed a Shriver novel and that our certitude is just another human foible.

A masterful, page-turning study of complex relationships among our bodies, our minds and our families.