A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
“Tall, fit and flamboyant” is the big brother Pandora went to pick up at the Cedar Rapids Airport. But it’s been four years since they last met and the Edison coming toward her in an extra-wide wheelchair is hundreds of pounds heavier. What happened?!
The answer to this is the crux of Big Brother, Lionel Shriver’s unflinching look at why Edison–like many an American–has gotten fat and what can be done about it, if anything. The “why” and the “what can be done” emerge as two sides of the same coin. When Pandora pledges a year of her life to help Edison lose his life-threatening pounds, her strategy is well-researched, simple and radical: she will take a sabbatical from her husband and stepchildren and move to a nearby apartment with Edison to be his diet, exercise and lifestyle coach. Since she has recently gained 20 or more pounds, she’ll also restrict herself to the enriched powder-shakes-only diet.
The reverberations begin at once and don’t stop. Powder shakes are not like food. Seductive real food is everywhere. Living with a sibling for the first time since childhood brings up resonances and afterthoughts. It’s very different from residing with a spouse and two teenagers–who are not happy about Pandora’s decision. Is this a sacrifice worth making? Is it one that can succeed? If it succeeds, will it remain successful?
As the year progresses, Edison reveals himself to Pandora, about how he coped with disappointments by numbing himself with heaping quantities of food, creating a vicious cycle. In turn, Pandora considers her relationship with him and the rest of their unusual family, the mixed blessing of early success, what work is worth–and worth doing–and many other matters. Readers of We Need to Talk about Kevin and Shriver’s other novels know she does not shy from tough issues and is a master at wrapping them in interesting, complex characters and surprising plot twists. With Big Brother, she can put another notch in her belt.
Review by Christine