Yelling at books is a form of therapy – “Big Brother” by Lionel Shriver

August 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm 2 comments

“Big Brother” by Lionel Shriver, Published in 2013

I cannot express enough how angry the end of this book made me.  Not only did it piss me off that I spent all that time reading the entire book, it also just pissed me off because I didn’t get any of the closure that I needed.  And let me be clear, this is not a “the writer really channeled into some deep emotion in me” kind of pissed off. This is a “the writer told a whole story and then changed her mind at the end with an eighth grade writing technique that should never be used by adults ever” kind of pissed off.

Pandora is a wealthy, successful business woman who has made her money selling made-to-order pull-string dolls that can be fashioned to look like and talk like your favorite, annoying loved one. She is married to a furniture artist,  who takes his health very, very seriously – between the biking and the quinoa eating he is truly the picture of physical health.  She also has two step-children.  So life is pretty stable and good, for the most part. Except she has other family as well – mainly her brother, Edison, a marginally famous, good-looking jazz pianist.

Edison is down on his luck so Pandora agrees he can come and stay with her for two months until his upcoming jazz tour in Portugal and Spain. When she goes to pick him up at the airport, not only is he being wheeled off the plane in a wheelchair, he has gained over 200 lbs.  Pandora spends the next two months watching her brother spoon powdered sugar into his large jowls while whipping up batch after batch of chocolate chip pancakes.  Of course, Pandora’s husband is appalled and sits in the corner eating his flax-seed, protein something or other with a brooding sneer.

When Edison finally admits that he really doesn’t have an upcoming tour and that he has lost everything while eating his way to the grave, Pandora decides to take him on as a project. She and Edison move into an apartment to lose weight – it is a project that will last a year with the ultimatum that if Edison has one slip up it is all over.

The U.S. has an issue with obesity that Lionel is trying to tackle here. We eat to fill ourselves – not our physical emptiness but our "Big Brother" Lionel Shriveremotional emptiness.  I get where she is going with this.  You can be successful and fat, you can be a failure and fat. 20 lbs overweight or 200 lbs overweight, either way there is a discipline and self-indulgence problem. Lionel also uses Pandora’s husband to show that you can go to the other extreme. If your dieting and work-out regime makes you feel you are somehow superior then it is likely filling a vacuum for you as well.  There is clearly a healthy balance of enjoying life and caring for our well-being that we all should strive to meet. Lionel’s message is interesting and overall I think true.

BUT, then I read the last ten pages.  And I wanted to yell “please make it go away. why?????!!! WHY???!!!”  Sadly, this is what I will remember about the book, not the characters, not the message, just the terrible, terrible ending.  It might still be worth reading but you have been warned and there are always lots of other books to read. May I suggest “We should talk about Kevin”?

Other reviews to check out:


Entry filed under: August 2013 reads. Tags: , , , .

Remembering the world is a big place- “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld An enigma, wrapped in a riddle, entwined with a mystery… – “The Cairo Diary” by Maxime Chattam

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. butimbeautiful  |  August 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    I’m not sure I liked the ending of Kevin either – maybe Lionel doesn’t do easy endings. If my son had killed my daughter with crossbow bolts, I don’t think I’d be inviting him to move in after his prison sentence. Or vice versa.

    • 2. Emily C  |  August 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      You are so right.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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