Author: Lionel Shriver
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition, 2014 (series P.S.)
Review by Anne Logan
Are you an empathetic person? I like to think I am, but I know that when it comes to particular situations or people, I’m ashamed to say I pick and choose who I feel sorry for. For example, what do you think to yourself when you’re stuck beside an obese person on a flight? Do you resent having to sit next to them? Do you believe that he or she should have been forced to purchase two seats instead of one? It’s hard to admit these things to myself but I’d challenge others to claim they haven’t done or thought similar things when they see someone who is hundreds of pounds overweight about to climb into the airline seat next to them.
“Where is this bare-all confessional going?” you’re probably thinking to yourself. Well, now that I’ve read Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, I’ve realized that her book has made me a more sympathetic human being. Yes, not only was this book an interesting and enlightening read, I truly believe it made me a better person. So, obviously the $30 I spent on this hardcover was totally worth it.
The plot centers around a middle-aged woman named Pandora who has stumbled into creating her own successful business without really intending to, forever embarrassed by the modest wealth it has amassed her over the past few years. Her washed-up TV star of a father has given her an intense need to demonstrate her humility as he never had, and her older brother Edison has fallen upon some hard times–so he comes to stay with Pandora’s family for a few months in Iowa to get back on his feet. However, when Pandora picks Edison up from the airport, he is 300 pounds larger than when she last saw him. Once she realizes that he has nothing to return to (job, home, friends), she decides to set him up in an apartment two blocks from her family’s home and supply him with a diet and rules in order to help him lose the weight. Most importantly, she moves out of her family’s home and into this apartment with her brother (much to the disappointment and anger of her husband), because she believes this is the only way he will actually stick to the plan and diet. She too wants to lose 20 or 30 pounds, so she begins dieting with him.
I know that the plot summary above sounds like it could come from a Terry Fallis novel- a humorous kind of narrative could easily come about from something like this. And really, much of this book is funny, especially when the family dialogue comes out, which always make for a good laugh in and outside the pages of a book. However, Shriver deftly throws in a heart-wrenching twist towards the end of the book that literally puts everything into perspective for you, the reader, and for the narrator as well. While you come to your own realizations as you turn the pages, it seems as though the author is right along side you– which is what makes this book so brilliant.
I won’t go into detail about how exactly this book has changed my perspective on people who struggle with weight issues, but it has taught me to look deeper than people’s appearances to really identify and acknowledge that they are in fact struggling. I don’t want to be the kind of person that ranks people’s struggles on a scale–a struggle is a struggle and reading Big Brother made this crystal clear to me.
About the Author
Lionel Shriver is a novelist whose previous books include Orange Prize-winner We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Post-Birthday World, A Perfectly Good Family, Game Control, Double Fault, The Female of the Species, Checker and the Derailleurs, and Ordinary Decent Criminals.
She is widely published as a journalist, writing features, columns, op-eds, and book reviews for the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Economist, Marie Claire, and many other publications.
She is frequently interviewed on television, radio, and in print media. She lives in London and Brooklyn, NY.