big brother

I just finished listening to the mp3 audiobook version of Big Brother by Lionel Shriver this morning. This is the first book I’ve read by Shriver, though I’ve been interested in We Need to Talk about Kevin for a while… Big Brother just came up first through the library for me. Edited from Goodreads:

For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savored through their courtship, and devotes hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.

I liked Big Brother, but didn’t quite OMGLOVE it. Shriver takes on a number of issues in this book, specifically chosen vs. biological family relationships and obesity as a personal issue and then again as a societal one. Narrated by the book’s protagonist Pandora in first person, she comes off as a wonderfully human character. She is shocked by encountering a man she barely recognizes as the brother of her youth, but the sibling bond is palpably strong for Pandora and Edison. Edison’s jazz musician persona is a bit over the top, but believable. I loved how they poked fun at each other and had inside jokes from their shared childhood.

Which of course made for sometimes very tense vibes between Pandora and her husband, Fletcher. A proud man, stubborn, but definitely you can tell he loves Pandora. She adopted his two children, who consider her much more than a stepmom. She adores Fletcher and the kids, but when Edison appears with seemingly no other options, Pandora has to face very tough decisions of loyalty for her brother by blood and her chosen family. It makes you wonder what you might do in the same situation.

The ending… well, it’s a face-slapper, that’s for sure. I saw it coming, but didn’t exactly see it coming. Hard to discuss without giving away spoilers! I have mixed feelings about it, but I think it works in line with Shriver’s acerbic style throughout the rest of the book. The narrator on the audiobook, Alice Rosengard, kind of gave a hint of pretention to the characters, and maybe went a hair overboard with Edison’s jazz-cat affectations, but her pacing and enunciation were great and engaging.

You can’t help but root for the characters when they’re at their best, and cringe when their at their worst. I recommend Big Brother, but I am looking forward to We Need to Talk about Kevin a little more to read at some point in the future.

Listened to audiobook from September 1 to 18, 2013.

4 thoughts on “big brother

  1. You seem to fall about in the middle of most of the reviews I’ve seen, which have been pretty polarized. I’ve yet to try a Shriver book, but really wanted this to be a book club read for my group – it seems like one that could get some discussions going!

    • I think it would be a great pick for a book club! I do wonder how I would have felt about the book if I had read it instead of listening, especially the characters’ personalities. 🙂

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