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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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.
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!
To have a close family member interject themselves intimately into your life for an extended period of time while being morbidly obese to the point of causing damage to your home, changing how meals are eaten (the focal point of family communication) and even altering your marriage is topic of Big Brother. Lionel Shriver does an excellent job of developing "Obesity" as a character of its own while showing the damaging impact it can have not only on the obese but on those around.
I am finding that Lionel Shriver is quickly becoming my favorite contemporary author. This is definitely worth the listening time. The only drawback to the narration is that I sometimes had difficulty telling the difference between the two main characters when being read.
I am a huge Lionel Shriver fan, so this book was a wonderful addition to her collection. As always, I was very impressed with her in-depth character study. She is, almost to a fault, honest, and brings us characters that resonate both in their consistency and in their unique quirks. She never paints a clear "good guy" and "bad guy," but always provides a good story.
Alice Rosengard did a wonderful job narrating this story. I can still hear Ms. Shriver's characters' idiosyncratic phrases in the narrator's voice ("Panda-bear!").
If you are not used to Ms. Shriver's work, they are not sunny. They are, however, wonderful works of fiction.
I'm a recovering librarian. Since I had a stroke in 2002 I have found reading print difficult. I am so grateful for audiobooks.
I felt betrayed by an unsympathetic central character. I never understood her motivation even at the end. There was little about this book that seemed real and I felt the author was making fun of the reader... sort of like the last episode of Seinfeld. Perhaps that was the point.
Just looking for an enjoyable story! Books are my passion.
I decided to read Big brother, when a listener I follow recommended it. I was rather intrigued. A husband hell bent on health, his supportive wife and her brother who has fallen into despair and has gained an enormous amount of weight, and their battle of the bulge. I too battle the ups and downs of the scale, and reading a story about someone else and their journey into "normal" size, sounded wonderful.
The first part of the book was interesting, but it moved slowly. I found myself cringing whenever Edison, Pandora's brother, spoke. His constant usage of "jazz" lingo was repetitive, and after hearing Ms. Rosengard read "man" after nearly every sentence grated on me. Then, to make it worse, Cory, Pandora's step-daughter picked up Edison's habit of jazz lingo.
I can't say I totally disliked this book. There were many parts I enjoyed. However, I noticed I kept looking at the time remaining to see if the book was close to ending. I stopped reading when I had 2 hours remaining. I just wasn't interested anymore.
In my opinion, this book could have been much shorter. Perhaps the abridged version would have been better. I even tried speeding up the narration at one point, but the echo from the increase, made it difficult to understand the narrator.
The premise of the story told in Big Brother sounded very interesting to me. A woman risks losing everything to help her obese brother lose weight. But the ridiculousness of the details...from last names like "Halfdanarson" and "Appaloosa" (seroiusly--even though it's a stage name?) to a jazz pianist who put the words "man," "cats" and "dig?" into every sentence....really soured the whole story for me. It was a good premise that ended up falling flat because it lost its realism for me and became very stilted. I couldn't focus on the story because those things grated on me so much.
At the point that Pandora, the lead character, takes her obese brother Edison under her wing, I was also amazed by the idea that the two could just cold-turkey diet on protein powder drinks of a mere 500 calories or so a day. No exercise, God forbid. I kept wondering to myself...what does Pandora think that Edison is going to do once she helps him lose this weight? He won't have learned a thing because no one has taught him the importance of moderation and exercise. It just seemed so implausible to me.
And then...there were the preachy sections that were inserted into the story. Long diatribes about obesity and food that seemingly came out of nowhere. Talk about interrupting the story's flow.
I think that Shriver needed to add a dose of realism to this story. I understand that she lost a brother due to complications of obesity, so it does surprise me that this book had so many unrealistic elements. Also, she needs to omit the long-winded speeches about food and obesity. I understand this was probably a cathartic exercise for her, but it didn't do the book any favors.
The narrator's performance was decent. I wouldn't say it was the best or the worst that I've ever read.
I don't think I would cut any characters from the book, as they all have their place in the story. However, Pandora's character was not very sympathetic. She goes from doormat to suddenly moving out of her house to live with her brother, risking her marriage--something she's tiptoed around for quite some time. And then Edison....I found myself wanting to kick him. I had a really hard time feeling sorry for someone who was so self-centered, even if he was grossly overweight.
I was engrossed with this story and felt empathy for all the characters. There were periods when I felt the author endulged in being too, 'preachy.' But, overall, it was an interesting tale. Nevertheless, no amount of explaination could justify such a ridiculous ending. I would not trust this author again.
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