In “Big Brother”, Lionel Shriver’s latest, much-noted novel, Pandora, the middle of three siblings, invites her older brother, Edison, to her home for what she expects will be a two-month stay. What she doesn’t know upon departing for the airport, however, is that since she’s last seen him Edison has become morbidly obese. Her journey in navigating her relationship with him, her husband, family, and herself, becomes the topic of the rest of the work. Societal issues, such as the way we frequently judge others, as well as ourselves, in terms of our bodies, are also noted, if not more thoroughly explored.
The beauty of Shriver’s books lies not only in her search for answers, but in the significance of the questions that are raised. In “Big Brother” as her former work, “The Post-Birthday World,” Shriver encourages us to contemplate the consequences of the choices we make and the degree to which those choices are defined by, as well as define, who we are.
Another key question regards what we owe to ourselves, as opposed to those we love, and to what degree we need to weigh the balance and seek any type of equanimity. Another novel that tackled this issue, perhaps more powerfully than any other other I recall, is “The Dive Off Claussen’s Pier” by Anne Packer.
Can we truly change someone else, and if so, how? As a therapist, I’m often asked by clients “How can I get my sister/mother/husband/friend to come to see you or seek help?” First and foremost, I answer, “Suggest it once, but do not nag. Show by who you are and how you’re living that therapy is having a positive influence on you and your life. Perhaps that will inspire them. The desire to change must emanate from within themselves.”
“What is the importance of food in our lives?” – a recurring query throughout this work – leads us not to answers – sustenance? entertainment? escape? satisfaction? some type of fulfillment in and of itself? – but to the need for a greater awareness of the complexity of this quest. And one point strongly made by the unfolding story is that this is a quest that can only be made in a real-world situation, with real-life stresses and real-life food. “Solutions” that aren’t applicable to real-life living, aren’t solutions at all.
Grief, regret, the stress of situations which seem unsurmountable – these are emotions with which we all grapple. Excellent authors like Ms. Schriver, show us that we are not alone.
All my best,
Arlene B. Englander, Licensed Psychotherapist
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