Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
As anyone knows, Lionel Shriver isn’t the kind of person to mince words or pull any punches. For this reason she is one of my literary heroines. I can still remember the shock and horror I felt when I read the chilling We Need to Talk About Kevin (years before the movie came out). It’s not often a book can trigger both my disgust and admiration at the same time, so I was very excited to get my hands on Shriver’s latest hot-button issue: Big Brother. Like her previous works, this delightful novel will encourage a vast amount of arguments for both sides in reading group discussions. Shriver fearlessly and triumphantly tackles her subject by showcasing different viewpoints in a remarkable manner.
As the main character, Pandora Halfdanarson shines in her role as the gutsy, sometimes irritable, yet always lovable protagonist who finds herself torn between her love for her brother, Edison, and her devotion to her husband, Fletcher. When Edison shows up for a surprise visit a few hundred pounds heavier than when the family last saw him, no one is more surprised than Pandora. The fact that neither Edison nor Fletcher can stand each other doesn’t help matters.
As Pandora strives to keep the peace, she finds herself falling further and further down a rabbit hole. Try as she might, she ends up completely miserable. I totally loved reading about her ongoing quandary which was both hilarious and spot-on. While Pandora tries to delicately skirt around the issue, Fletcher sees no sense in sugar-coating it. Add to this the fact that Fletcher is a fitness buff, and soon Pandora wants nothing more than to wipe the smug expression off her husband’s face.
Frantic, Pandora hatches a plan when Edison quickly wears out his welcome. After he finally hits bottom (after a very graphic and disturbing bathroom scene!), Pandora shocks everyone by coming up with an outrageous idea to help Fletcher finally lose weight. Although not everyone is on board, she proceeds anyway. The storyline of Pandora’s Good Samaritan Plan is highly entertaining and contains more than a few surprises.
I loved the brilliantly comic, caustic, and abrasive dialogue that is Shriver’s trademark. And just when you think you have the story all figured out, Shriver delivers her coup de grâce and you are just blown away. I would have never predicted the surprise clever ending and I can’t really decide if I liked it or not. But that’s what makes her novels so much fun. Readers will no doubt find themselves on both sides of the fence for this not-to-be-missed tale about family relationships and humanity’s ever-puzzling relationship with food.
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