It’s Sunday afternoon on this mid-summer long weekend, and once again, it’s a practically-perfect summer day, blue skies with a few fluffy clouds, a refreshing breeze, and no perceptible humidity. It’s so far been a fabulous day, which only promises to get better as I sit with my cup of tea and write about what I’ve been reading.
I didn’t write this morning, which is my usual posting time, because I wanted to finish reading Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother first. I was so close to the end that I thought about writing before reaching the last page, much as I had in last week’s post written about the audio book I was listening to, David Gordon’s The Serialist (which, by the way, continued to be good, but I think it dragged slightly by the end - perhaps he could have ended it a bit sooner, although he did address the reader again near the end in another brilliant discussion about the role of books and reading, so I guess it was worth it). Anyway, I thought I could write about Shriver’s book without finishing it and still be fairly accurate in my entry, but with only 30 pages to go, and not being quite awake enough to write, I decided to read to the end first and write later, which was a fabulous decision. Big Brother is a novel about a woman in her forties, Pandora, who is married to a rather demanding man, Fletcher, and is stepmother to his two children, daughter Cody and son Tanner, both in their teens. She also runs a successful specialty doll company, which makes personalized replicas of individuals, each including recordings of the real person’s most annoying or most used sayings. Pandora’s older famous-jazz-musician brother Edison contacts her and, revealing that he is a bit down-on-his-luck at the moment, asks to come from New York to Iowa for a visit. Not having seen her brother for a few years, she readily agrees, despite not knowing how long the visit will be. When Edison arrives at the airport, Pandora doesn’t at first recognize him, but soon comes to realize that the grossly overweight man being wheeled into Arrivals by an employee is her brother. He gets up and shuffles over to her, and she does her best to hide her surprise at his incredible weight gain, in an effort to be polite. He is brought to her home, where he is too large to fit into (and to heavy to use without breaking) most of the furniture in the house, which have been handmade by Fletcher and are at least as much works of art as usable items. Tension rises as Edison and Fletcher clash personalities, Pandora and Cody try to keep the peace, and Tanner behaves as a 17-year old boy often behaves, or mis-behaves, by siding with neither his father nor his uncle nor his step-mother, but responds in a sullen, confrontational manner to all. As Pandora finds out more about Edison’s real situation, she proposes a drastic weight-loss project for Edison that puts her marriage and her family at risk. This reader spent most of her time wondering if Pandora will be able to “fix” Edison and still salvage her relationships with her current family. Up to that point, I thought that it was a pretty good book. It tackled an interesting subject, that of extreme obesity in America today, and the role food and food-related events and activities play in the lives of the general public. It was insightful and well-written, very accessible for the reader yet also thought-provoking. It was told in a straight-forward manner that led me from one point to another in time and followed the conventional structure of a novel. But I couldn’t help comparing it to that other fabulous novel Shriver wrote, We Need To Talk About Kevin, which I loved, and feeling a bit let down. There were some similarities: both explored difficult family relationships in extreme situations; both featured as their main characters strong, successful females who have to deal with difficult males; and both explored public attitudes towards those who don’t necessarily fit in society which are prevalent in America. But while Kevin was heartfelt and offered real, intense emotions, Brother seemed kinda wishy-washy. Kevin tackled a really difficult situation while Brother was just sort of challenging. While Kevin was told in an unusual way, through letters from Eva to her estranged husband, Brother was just ordinary. Then I got to the end, and discovered that Shriver is truly an exceptionally skilled storyteller. That’s all I will say about that, so as not to spoil it for anyone, but I would highly recommend this novel to just about any reader, and I would say definitely read it to the very last page. Though not quite as good as Kevin in my opinion, it was pretty darn great.
And I’m listening to John Le Carre’s very first novel, Call for the Dead, which begins the series featuring Secret Service agent George Smiley. I once tried to read a later title in this series, The Honourable Schoolboy, but I didn’t understand any of the terminology or references the author used, such as when he referred to “the Circus” (the Intelligence Service). I didn’t intend to search for this title and start from the beginning, but since it was available for download, and it offers such an interesting and fundamental introduction to the characters and settings upon which the rest of the series rely, I think that I will be able to listen to or read the other Smiley books with greater ease, if I choose to do so. I have several of the novels in this series on my bookshelf, as well as a couple of his stand-alones.
That’s all for today. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!
Bye for now…