big brother
How far would you go to try to rescue your brother from himself? Would you leave home to become his coach and caretaker? Would you endanger your marriage?  These are the questions that Pandora is compelled to ask herself.  Having always revered her big brother who is three years older and skipped college, arriving in New York City with $20 and a surfeit of talent for playing jazz piano, she feels pale in comparison.  Edison has always been, hands down, their father’s favorite.  Despite limited expectations of her, Pando successfully starts two business, the second of which lands her on the cover of national magazines and ensures her family’s financial security allowing her husband to become a freelance furniture maker.  Pandora is Fletcher’s second wife, after divorcing his meth addicted first; she has become a beloved mother to her stepchildren.  Pandora remains humble and tentative in her successes.  She cautions herself that interest will wan for  the ultra-popular product she created.  She is acutely aware that she’s gained a few extra pounds, especially in light of her husband Fletcher’s obsessiveness with fitness and strict dietary practices.  Ironically, his wife is a chef who loves to cook.  It’s one of the many ironies of their marriage.

When Pandora arrives at the airport to collect her visiting brother, she overhears passengers at the baggage claim counter talking about the hugely obese passenger whose excessive presence they were forced to  endure during the flight.  She never dreams they are discussing her lanky, former track star brother.  In fact, she doesn’t even recognize Edison when he arrives in a double wide wheelchair.  Edison’s weight becomes the elephant in the room and house, and Fletcher’s intolerance for his jazz musician braggadocio and his weight puts a strain on Pando’s and Fletcher’s marriage.  The family counts the days till Edison is scheduled to leave their Iowa home and to set forth on his musical tour of Spain.  On the way to the airport, Edison admits that there is no tour, and presents Pandora with the decision of her life.

Shriver fills her novel with interesting secondary characters:  Pandora’s and Edison’s father a former TV sitcom star whose ego remains over-inflated; Pandora’s stepson, an unrealistic budding screenwriter who thinks he doesn’t need to finish high school and her shy teen-aged stepdaughter who becomes Edison’s steadfast fan;  the uncool and practical Solstice years younger than siblings Pando and Edison.  If what I’ve written so far isn’t enough to pique your interest, how about this:  just when the story is comfortably cruising down one path, it veers in a completely different direction.  Shriver writes lyrically about the complications of spousal and sibling relationships, addiction, regret, and the lies we tell ourselves.


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