Friday, July 5, 2013

Lionel Shriver's New Novel, Big Brother

This is not the kind of book I will be running around saying, “Read this, read this,” though I’m not sure why, given that I read the nearly-400 page book in less than 24 hours.  As usual, Shriver pushes into territory that many people would rather not examine: here, it’s morbid obesity, as Pandora abruptly discovers that her beloved and admired older brother has ballooned in weight, up to 368 pounds.  To save him, she puts her marriage at risk by moving in with her brother, determined to spend the year coaching/nagging/inspiring him down to his youthful 163 pounds.  (Shriver has noted in interviews that her beloved, older brother died at age 55 and was obese.)

A few observations:

The beginning was a little slow.

Later I learned that Shriver has a brother who lives in Iowa and she visits often, but the Iowa setting did not ring true to me (though it was an inspired thematic choice)—despite the allusions to Hy-Vee, Iowa’s favorite grocery store, and a reference to The Mill in Iowa City.

Since there’s not a whole lot of narrative drive watching a character lose weight, it was a very talky book, with a lot of summary of time passing. 

Since it was a talky book, some of the talking came off as pushing the author’s thematic points a bit hard (though, honestly, because Shriver is so smart and relentless, I never mind this aspect of her work).

Reading about people on an extreme diet made me hungry, and I may have snacked more than I might have.  (Since the book is about our relationship with food, this may not be a bad thing.)

So, all that…AND YET:

The ending of the book was so incredible and startling that I forgive absolutely everything.

AFTER you read the book, read this interview with Lionel Shriver, where she talks a bit about the process of writing that ending.  And maybe I am saying, “Read this book,” if only because I desperately want to talk to someone about it! 


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.