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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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

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!

43 of 50 people found this review helpful

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Such a relevant issue

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Thought Provoking

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • JoAnn
  • Boston, MA, United States
  • 12-15-13

Very Shriver, VERY good!

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Left me feeling betrayed

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.

5 of 9 people found this review helpful

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wow.

loved this story. really learned a lot about relationships with food and the human spirit!

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Great storytelling, great writing

Wonderful book. Lionel shriver is one of our best American contemporary writers who combines Great storytelling with much wisdom.

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really slow moving &was hard to keep my attention

picked up a little bit after part two, but it just really seemed to drag on and on

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excellent

loved it. incredible narration. tale of hope and frustration and choice, and when enough is never enough.