26 April 2013

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Flap Copy from ARC: "For Pandora, cooking is a form of love.  Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed cabinetmaker who crafts high-end, one-of-a-kind furniture, now spurns the "toxic" dishes that he'd savored through their courtship, and loses hours a day to manic cycling.  But the couple's comfortable, if sometimes strained, routine is about to implode.  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?
And it's not just the weight; Edison interjects himself into Pandora's world: breaking Fletcher's handiwork, making massive breakfasts for the family, enticing her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school.  
After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it's him or me.  Putting her marriage and her adopted family on the line, Pandora chooses her brother - who, without her support in losing weight, will surely eat himself into an early grave."
Fans of Lionel Shriver will not be disappointed with this new novel, which I am absolutely placing at the top of my 2013 list (at least for now, who knows what gems are still to come?) As always, Shriver has crafted a detailed and complex narrative about family dynamics, love, loyalty, and the question of how to gauge what one person might 'owe' another, especially a blood relation. This is a story about fat as a social issue, a personal battle, and a family tragedy.
A quick plot summary would do this book and its readers an injustice - suffice it to say that 'Big Brother' has something for every kind of reader: sibling rivalry, fame, television, parental dysfunction, spousal competition, and food, glorious food. Shriver's characters are not always likable, or lovable, but they are strikingly real and sometimes painfully human. She writes witty dialogue and vocabulary-heavy descriptions that immerse the reader in the lives and minds of the characters; even the lesser characters are given brief moments to shine.
To anyone who has ever felt out of control in the face of someone else's struggle, or struggled themselves to reach out to someone else while maintaining a fragile hold on his or her own life, this book is a must-read. I highly recommend 'Big Brother', it's deserving of more than five stars!

08 April 2013

Imperfect Bliss: A Novel by Susan Fales-Hill

Product Description: "Meet the Harcourts of Chevy Chase, Maryland. A respectable middle-class, middle-age, mixed-race couple, Harold and Forsythia have four eminently marriageable daughters—or so their mother believes. Forsythia named her girls after Windsor royals in the hopes that one day each would find her true prince. But princes are far from the mind of their second-born daughter, Elizabeth (AKA Bliss), who, in the aftermath of a messy divorce, has moved back home and thrown herself into earning her PhD. All that changes when a Bachelorette-style reality television show called The Virgin takes Bliss’s younger sister Diana as its star. Though she fights it at first, Bliss can’t help but be drawn into the romantic drama that ensues, forcing her to reconsider everything she thought she knew about love, her family, and herself. Fresh and engaging, Imperfect Bliss is a wickedly funny take on the ways that courtship and love have changed—even as they’ve stayed the same."

Obviously, after reading the product description, I was expecting a fun, light read - despite the Jane Austen references in the description, I knew I was not about to find a serious novel. I did, however, expect to be entertained. In fact the opposite was true. From the moment I began reading, I was desperately hoping for the end to come quickly. Sad clich├ęs and sexist stereotypes abound in this hideous story about a bi-racial family, hovering in the middle-class while desperately seeking ascension to some sort of 'nobility' while the ridiculous matriarch attempts to marry off her three questionably-eligible daughters. The characters are at best unconvincing, and at worst demeaning and offensive caricatures of already unappealing people. Don't waste your time on this one - even the editor clearly didn't want to bother, as the book is full of major typographical and consistency errors. Read some actual Jane Austen instead! If zero stars were possible, I would have used that rating - instead, a sad one star.