Sunday, June 23, 2013
BIG BROTHER by Lionel Shriver
Never one to shy away from hot button issues, tackling them astutely, openly and honestly, Lionel Shriver now brings us a perceptive story focusing on family and food, in other words obesity.
Our narrator Pandora and her brother Edison are the offspring of a once popular television star. Pandora, a former caterer, has settled in a small town in Iowa where she has a successful doll manufacturing business. She’s married to Fletcher, a self-employed cabinet maker. While Pandora who loves to cook may be a tad on the chunky side Fletcher is a physically fit biker.
Pandora’s choice of a lifestyle is a bit modest compared to Edison’s who is a New York jazz pianist. However, things go a bit off-key in his business, so he calls Pandora to suggest a visit. She’s delighted at the thought of spending time with her brother after too long, but is shocked to see him because he has gained hundreds of pounds. He is what our society might call morbidly obese. Further, as it soon becomes obvious he is far from being an ideal houseguest with a braggadocios streak and a tendency to eat, eat, eat. Needless to say Fletcher is not the least bit fond of his brother-in-law.
What to do? Pandora opts for intercession - she will move out of her home and into a rental apartment with Edison while they both lose weight. This is a decision that may not only not work but also imperils her marriage. It is at this point that Shriver begins to explore familial relationships, the kinship of siblings, responsibilities to others and ourselves. She does so insightfully, enriched with warmth and wisdom.
Big Brother is not only compulsively readable but it speaks to us today about the way we think about our bodies, the way we look at others and at ourselves. Shriver is a masterful writer and we are her beneficiaries.
- Gail Cooke