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The new novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, this is the compelling and confronting story of a sister who risks her marriage to save her morbidly obese brother . When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn't recognize him. In the four years since the grown siblings last saw one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? Worse, Edison's slovenly habits, appalling diet, and know-it-all monologues drive her health-and-fitness freak husband Fletcher insane. After the big blowhard of a brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it's him or me. Putting her marriage and two adoptive children on the line, Pandora chooses her brother - who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave. BIG BROtHER tackles a constellation of issues surrounding obesity: why we overeat, whether extreme diets ever work in the long run, and how we treat overweight people.
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About the Author
Lionel Shriver's novels include the National Book Award finalist So Much for That, the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World, and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian and the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and many other publications. She lives in London and Brooklyn, New York.
Hometown:Brooklyn, New York, and London, England
Date of Birth:May 18, 1957
Place of Birth:Gastonia, North Carolina
Education:B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University, 1978; M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, Columbia University, 1982
Read an Excerpt
By Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Lionel Shriver
All rights reserved.
I have to wonder whether any of the true highlights of my
fortysome years have had to do with food. I don't mean cel-
ebratory dinners, good fellowship; I mean salivation, mastica-
tion, and peristalsis. Oddly, for something I do every day, I can't
remember many meals in detail, while it is far easier for me to call
up favorite movies, faithful friendships, graduations. It follows,
then, that film, affinity, and education are more important to me
than stuffing my face. Well done, me, you say. But were I hon-
estly to total the time I have lavished on menu planning, grocery
shopping, prep and cooking, table setting, and kitchen cleanup
for meal upon meal, food, one way or another, has dwarfed my
fondness for Places in the Heart to an incidental footnote; ditto
my fondness for any human being, even those whom I profess
to love. I have spent less time thinking about my husband than
thinking about lunch. Throw in the time I have also spent ru-
ing indulgence in lemon meringue pies, vowing to skip breakfast
tomorrow, and opening the refrigerator/stopping myself from
4 ? lionel shriver
dispatching the leftover pumpkin custard/then shutting it firmly
again, and I seem to have concerned myself with little else but
So why, if, by inference, eating has been so embarrassingly
central for me, can I not remember an eidetic sequence of stellar
Like most people, I recall childhood favorites most vividly,
and like most kids I liked plain things: toast, baking-powder bis-
cuits, saltines. My palate broadened in adulthood, but my char-
acter did not. I am white rice. I have always existed to set off
more exciting fare. I was a foil as a girl. I am a foil now.
I doubt this mitigates my discomfiture much, but I have some
small excuse for having overemphasized the mechanical matter of
sustenance. For eleven years, I ran a catering business. You would
think, then, that I could at least recall individual victories at
Breadbasket, Inc. Well, not exactly. Aside from academics at the
university, who are more adventurous, Iowans are conservative
eaters, and I can certainly summon a monotonous assembly line
of carrot cake, lasagna, and sour-cream cornbread. But the only
dishes that I recollect in high relief are the disasters—the Indian
rosewater pudding thickened with rice flour that turned into a
stringy, viscous vat suitable for affixing wallpaper. The rest—the
salmon steaks rolled around somethingorother, the stir-fries of
thisandthat with an accent of whathaveyou—it's all a blur.
Patience; I am rounding on something. I propose: food is by
nature elusive. More concept than substance, food is the idea of
satisfaction, far more powerful than satisfaction itself, which is
why diet can exert the sway of religion or political zealotry. Not
irresistible tastiness but the very failure of food to reward is what
drives us to eat more of it. The most sumptuous experience of
big brother ? 5
ingestion is in-between: remembering the last bite and looking
forward to the next one. The actual eating part almost doesn't
happen. This near-total inability to deliver is what makes the
pleasures of the table so tantalizing, and also so dangerous.
Petty? I'm not so sure. We are animals; far more than the
ancillary matter of sex, the drive to eat motivates nearly all of
human endeavor. Having conspicuously triumphed in the com-
petition for resources, the fleshiest among us are therefore tower-
ing biological success stories. But ask any herd of overpopulating
deer: nature punishes success. Our instinctive saving for a rainy
day, our burying of acorns in the safest and most private of hid-
ing places for the long winter, however prudent in its way, how-
ever expressive of Darwinian guile, is killing my country. That
is why I cast doubt on whether the pantry, as a subject, is paltry.
True, I sometimes wonder just how much I care about my coun-
try. But I care about my brother.
Any story about a sibling goes far back indeed, but for our
purposes the chapter of my brother's life that most deserves
scrutiny began, aptly, at lunch. It must have been a weekend,
since I hadn't already left for my manufacturing headquarters.
As usual in that era, my husband Fletcher had come upstairs
on the early side. He'd been getting up at five a.m., so by noon he
was famished. A self-employed cabinetmaker who crafted lovely
but unaffordable one-of-a-kind furniture, he commuted all the
way to our basement, and could arise whenever he liked. The
crack-of-dawn nonsense was for show. Fletcher liked the implied
rigor, the faÃade of yet more hardness, fierceness, discipline, and
6 ? lionel shriver
I found the up-and-at-'em maddening. Back then, I hadn't the
wisdom to welcome discord on such a minor scale, since Fletcher's
alarm-clock setting would soon be the least of our problems. But
that's true of all before pictures, which appear serene only in ret-
rospect. At the time, my irritation at the self- righteousness with
which he swept from bed was real enough. The man went to sleep
at nine p.m. He got eight hours of shut-eye like a normal person.
Where was the self-denial?
As with so many of my husband's bullying eccentricities, I
refused to get with the program and had begun to sleep in. I was
my own boss, too, and I detested early mornings. Queasy first
light recalled weak filtered coffee scalded on a hot plate. Turning
in at nine would have made me feel like a child, shuttled to my
room while the grown-ups had fun. Only the folks having fun,
all too much of it, would have been Tanner and Cody, teenagers
not about to adopt their father's faux farming hours.
Thus, having just cleared off my own toast and coffee dishes,
I wasn't hungry for lunch—although, following the phone call of
an hour earlier, my appetite had gone off for other reasons. I can't
remember what we were eating, but it
Excerpted from Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. Copyright © 2013 Lionel Shriver. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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