Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

5 of 30
Big Brother
373 pages; Harper
Most of us want to help the people we love, but what happens when this leads to our own implosion? In Big Brother, financially successful forty-something Pandora Halfdanarson picks up her older brother Edison at the airport only to find that he's ballooned from a weight of 163 pounds to nearly 400. Cycling from affection, to bewilderment, to disgust, Pandora tries to keep her marriage to her exercise-fanatic husband from falling apart, while Edison lumbers around their house breaking chairs, clogging toilets and—in one exceptionally heartbreaking scene—downing whole bottles of corn syrup in secret. America's skyrocketing obesity problem, clearly, is the issue at stake (Shriver has wrestled other push-button topics, including cancer and child murderers, in previous books) but this line of inquiry never smothers the can't-put-it-down story, especially once Pandora and Edison begin a gonzo liquid-diet together, trying to save his life. We slowly realize, along with Pandora, that the motivation behind his actions are the real problem. Edison is not just fat. He's trying to kill himself by overeating. Though the backstory about the pair's childhood—spent in Hollywood with their successful script-writing father—does distract at times, the moving (and shocking) finale will have you thinking about the "byzantine emotional mathematics" we all put ourselves through when overwhelmed with family responsibilities.
— Leigh Newman