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Big Brother, Lionel Shriver


I first discovered this author’s novels through “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which also deals with dysfunctional families and the impact that one family member can have on an entire community. In this novel, Pandora’s broke jazz musician brother, Edison, comes to visit her family in Iowa, arriving as a marginally mobile obese food addict, promising to depart in two months when a European tour is to commence. The contrast between Pandora’s husband, Fletcher, and her brother’s attitudes towards food are pronounced, and lines are drawn between the two. This comes to a head when Pandora offers to get an apartment with Edison and join him on a rigorous diet to bring him back to a healthy weight.

Shriver does a plot twist at the very end of the book, though many readers will have picked up on threads of it leading up to the end. This does leave me feeling very unsettled about the events leading up to the twist, but it is very well done and emphasizes the point that she makes early in the novel: “Only in retrospect do I appreciate that this ‘doing your bit’ is a deadly misapprehension of the nature of familial ties. Better understanding them now, I find blood relationships rather frightening. 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” (121).

A worthwhile though possibly unsettling read; however, I think previous novels “The Post-Birthday World” and “A Perfectly Good Family” still remain favourites above this one.

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