Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sibling/food rivalry

Book: Big Brother
Author: Lionel Shriver
Published: 2013 (HarperCollins)
Pages: 373

This is the first full-priced, new-release hardback I’ve bought in I can’t even remember. But it’s a new Lionel Shriver about food and sibling relations, y’all. She’s covered both of these so well in books where those weren’t even the main focus.

And I was mostly happy with my purchase. It’s about a lady who discovers her brother has become, like, triply-morbidly obese in the couple of years since she’s seen him when he comes to crash with her and her late-life husband and stepkids.

I was surprised at how blunt the brother’s grotesquery was described. There was some underlining concern about his health, but seriously, their big problem with him was just him being fat in general and all the undisciplined, sloppy life choices this indicated. There was also some general politicking about fat people in America and how they became the norm and how that indicates the decline of our country, and it was at the same time less frequent but slightly less story-justified than some of Shriver’s other books (only some, though).

The brother-sister relationship of a rich, independent sister whose feelings of obligation to her broke-ass bohemian relation is complicated by her hard-earned personal love to her husband, who can’t understand why she’d even consider choosing helping her brother over the family she chose herself. She can’t articulate it, either, but she knows it’s some complicated knot of want/have to, and once she makes the first leap of major investment into helping him lose weight, she’s in too deep to decide anymore.

It seems like she throws her whole life into helping her brother with the Herculean task of getting him to lose all his excess, moving in with him and going on a crash all-liquid diet alongside him, shoving him until he starts sprinting to his goal himself and turns his life around – only to shove it all back in and break her heart right after she helps him celebrate meeting his goal.

But that last half of the book turns out to be a guilty fantasy harbored by a sibling who lets the problem go instead of actually trying to do anything about it. It was more illuminating about sibling relationships than it was narratively satisfying, but I still appreciate what it showed, and I still like Shriver’s baroque internality, and I still want her to be the lady writer who glares at me when I start whining at how hard this all is.  

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