Big Brother

A Novel

Shriver, Lionel

Book - 2013
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Big Brother
When her massively overweight brother, a once slim, hip New York Jazz pianist, comes for a visit, Pandora is forced to choose between her exercise fanatic husband and her brother, who desperately needs her support in losing weight.

Publisher: New York : Harper, c2013
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780061458576
Branch Call Number: FICTION SHRIVER 2013
Characteristics: 373 p. :,ill. ;,24 cm
Additional Contributors: Mendelson, Dana Illustrator


From Library Staff

Shriver (We Need to Talk about Kevin) returns to the family in this intelligent meditation on food, guilt, and the real (and imagined) debts we owe the ones we love. And there's an unexpected twist that you'll either like or be annoyed by. Either way, there's a lot to like in this book.

From the critics

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Dec 06, 2014
  • Lucky_Luke rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

A novel about north American obsession - losing weight. What does it really take to lose half your weight? First of all, it takes family support, that somebody cares.

Sep 21, 2014
  • Mazzba rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I agree with many of the other reviewers -- the book's final twist feels a bit like a cop-out. Still, I made it to the end, which says something. For me, the most interesting part of the book was the narrator, Pandora, who clearly suffers from a Savior complex -- fantasizing about how she alone could save her brother from herself.

This novel is worth reading if you're interested in eating disorders or codependence. Otherwise, I'm not sure the story has wide appeal.

Dec 23, 2013
  • betc2 rated this: 1 stars out of 5.

Featuring unlikeable, one-dimensional characters and heavy-handed clichés with an obvious message, this book is a complete waste of time. Before long I'd had enough, I started skimming, and I have no regrets, especially when Shriver employed an unforgivable plot device near the end. The message concerns bigotry against the obese. The author should stick to non-fiction exposition and stop trying to dress this stuff up as art in the form of a novel

Dec 19, 2013
  • gr1zz rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

While written in the same absorbing style as the hard-to-put-down We Need To Talk About Kevin, the final section of this engrossing novel deflates the excellence of the proceeding chapters. A thoroughly invigorating journey which arrives at a somewhat lacklustre ending, this is still worth a read for any fan of fiction about the mechanics of dysfunctional families.

Oct 09, 2013
  • jeanner222 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Pandora Halfdanarson is obsessed with two things: food and family. These obsessions are brought to light when her older brother, Edison, comes to Iowa for an extended visit.

Once a successful jazz pianist, Edison is now down on his luck and up on the scales. Up is a nice way to say it. When Pandora last saw him, he weighed around 163. He now tips the scale at 386. Those 386 pounds can only mean trouble for the Halfdanarson siblings. . .

You see, Pandora is married to a health nut. Fletcher eats little and cycles obsessively. He also makes furniture that is more art than function. And when I say that, I mean that none of his pieces could ever bear the weight of his brother-in-law. A health nut + his fragile furniture + a couple of teenaged stepchildren = lots of family fun for Edison and his sister. Not.

I do not want to spoil the rest of the novel’s plot. I will tell you that Pandora desperately wants to help her ailing brother. She would do anything for him. Anything.

Read this for Shriver’s examination of family dynamics, as well as her take on America’s obsession with food. It is interesting.

And prepare yourself to be just a little disappointed with the novel’s ending. Shame on you, Ms. Shriver!

Oct 02, 2013
  • Jane60201 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

I thought the first part of the book was kind of conventional and almost stopped. However, it picked up in the second section and was, I thought, quite a believable success story. The third part was the philosophical comment on the first and second part themes and tied the book together.

Sep 29, 2013
  • DellaV rated this: 1 stars out of 5.

This is a dark and depressing, judgemental story. Gave it 50 pages; got more depressed by the minute, gave it up. Sad and dark book.

Sep 09, 2013
  • dontbugmeimreading rated this: 1 stars out of 5.

I gave it 85 pages and nothing was happening. Life is too short - time to move on to another book.

Jul 15, 2013
  • ksoles rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

No stranger to modern controversial issues such as teenaged violence, the American health care system and global terrorism, Lionel Shriver centres her newest novel around the obesity epidemic. Pandora, her husband Fletcher, and his two teenagers lead a fairly typical midwestern life in idyllic Iowa until Edison, Pandora's formerly attractive jazz musician brother, comes for a visit. To everyone's horror, Edison has gained over 200 lbs. He has no money and no place to live in New York; he speaks in strange jazz argot; he breaks chairs and fouls the family's house. Nevertheless, Pandora can't ignore her need to help him. Putting her marriage on the line, she moves with Edison to an apartment in town where they undertake a year-long mostly liquid diet.

Certainly, the reformation of authority-defying, pleasure-seeking, New York-loving Edison into a thoughtful, self-controlled guy who loves Iowa requires the reader to stretch the boundaries of reality. But, as always, Shriver masterfully tracks the black intricacies of family relationships and keeps her readers swiftly turning pages. She divides "Big Brother" into three sections: Up, Down and Out. The first two refer to Edison's weight and the last pulls the rug from the reader in a completely unexpected about-face that seems misguided and slightly hostile to the book's audience.

Ultimately, the novel poses a valuable, unanswerable question: what do we owe our family? As Pandora says, “What is wonderful about kinship is also what is horrible about it: there is no line in the sand, no natural limit to what these people can reasonably expect of you."


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