Book Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

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Edison and Pandora are survivors of a dysfunctional childhood. Brothers and sisters tend to be close, survivors are bonded for life. When Pandora receives a call regarding Edison's poor luck living in New York, she invites him to stay for a couple months to get him back on his feet. Pandora's husband, Fletcher, is not a fan of Edison. Most people aren't, actually. He has the crassness of New York, not favorable in their small Iowa town. But it's the assuredness of Edison that is the main turn off. He seems to constantly try to prove himself to those that don't care about his credentials. Fletcher is especially perturbed by Edison, as he seems to hold a place in his wife's heart that he will never understand and will never be able to touch. 

When Pandora arrives at the airport to pick up Edison, she doesn't recognize him. He is extremely overweight. "When your brother shows up at the airport weighing hundreds more pounds than when last you met, you don't say anything." Which brings us to the topic of the book; we, Americans, are OBSESSED with weight and appearance. Yet, it's almost impossible to turn to someone you love and say, "I see you, please stop". It's ironic that in showing us that though many of us are broken not so many are so visibly broken, Shriver also shows us that we are so afraid of that visible pain that we don't offer comfort. It's embarrassing. It's difficult. There is such a line to toe and it can feel impossible. 

The following section covers the ending of the book. 


Panda leaves her family to take care of her brother for a year; to give him a deadline to lose over 200 lb. She tells her husband and his children that she will come back but that she needs this year with her brother. Her husband is obviously pissed at this. He wants his wife at home. Her step-children are in prime teenage drama zone and need their mother. 

Edison struggles but eventually loses the weight. Pandora goes back to her family and then Edison immediately regains the weight. We then find out that none of this actually happened. Oh, unreliable narrator, I really hate you. 

True the unreliable ending was too neat, but the true ending, that Pandora stayed with her family and sent Edison back to NY. That he stayed there until his death in his late forties. That there was no hope for this man. It didn't feel true to the story. Though, to be honest, I'm not sure what ending I would have found satisfactory. 

My favorite quote: 

"We are meant to be hungry"

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