Pandora (yes, that’s the name of the novel’s observant and witty narrator/heroine) is happily married to Fletcher, raising his two children from a previous marriage and running a very successful business that makes talking dolls (long story). While it’s true that Fletcher’s taken on an irritatingly spartan lifestyle, eating only super healthy foods and bicycling for long distances, and she’s put on 20 pounds without realizing it, their life together in Iowa is mostly companionable – until her revered jazz musician older brother Edison flies in for a visit from New York. Surprise: he’s 300+ pounds, has no job, no money and no place to stay. Trouble.
Edison ends up staying for two months during which he and Fletcher grow to despise each other and during which he eats and eats and creates a path of destruction by just sitting down in a chair. When it’s time for him to fly back to New York, Pandora can’t let him go. She makes it her mission to get him down to 160 pounds. Fletcher is not amused.
What follows is a brother-sister act revolving around food – or the lack thereof. Both siblings embark on a drastic diet and learn a lot about each other and themselves in the process.
I won’t say more about the plot because there are twists and turns the reader doesn’t see coming (this reader didn’t). What I can say unequivocally is that “Big Brother” is a superlative novel. Lionel Shriver is a beautiful writer even as her razor-sharp wit cuts through sentimentality, and she tackles the subjects of food and obesity in an unflinching way I’ve certainly never come across before. I’d be tempted to go back and re-read the book if I didn’t have so many other promising ones lined up on my Kindle, but maybe when there’s a lull….