Pandora has a pretty good middle class life. She and her husband are faithful to one another, even if the spark has gone out of their marriage. Her children (a son and a daughter) are not too worrisome. She has a successful business (manufacturing custom dolls.) And she has somehwat made peace with her father, a Hollywood has-been who played the perfect dad on TV.
When her older brother Edison comes to visit, he creates a splash in her calm life like a whale in a pool. Which is fitting, since Edison has ballooned to roughly whale-sized. A failed career as a jazz musician has pushed him to emotional eating, and he weighs almost 400 lbs.
Pandora faces the most difficult choice: which family is more important, the one you grow up with or the one you make yourself? Should she pour herself into keeping her brother on a diet/exercise regimen? Or focus her attention on her husband and kids, who might need her more than she knows?
Lionel Shriver, as always, packs a lot of issues into one novel. Weight, health, and our society’s perception of fat people are central to this story. Family, duty and loyalty also play a big part. Her writing is always insightful. Most of all, tho, her characterizations are superb. Shriver truly makes her characters come alive, compelling you to revist them from time to time and occasionally catch yourself wondering where they are and how they are doing now.
Lionel Shriver also excels at parallel lives: portraying who and where we would be we had made different choices. This is what first drew me in when I read The PostBirthday World and has kept me reading her books ever since. I won’t give away then ending of Big Brother, but lets just say Pandora get to take a good hard look at choices and consequences.
(and yes, the teenage son in this book is basically Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin if he wasn’t a murderous sociopath.)
You might like: The PostBirthday World, by Shriver. A Very Hungry Girl, Jessica Weiner. Skinny, Diana Spechler.