How I Introverted This Weekend: Lionel Shriver

I’m sorry for the hiatus, gang. I have recently 1. switched from one to three major tasks at work 2. with not the faintest sign of a raise, so on weekends I’m either sleeping like a corpse or applying to every job I can find in my major. Thank goodness for this third day off!

While the cool kids went to Carnaval, I wrote this.

Lionel Shriver appears to consistently rewrite the same protagonist: an upper class, middle aged, business-owning white woman with a vaguely ethnic last name, struggling for dominance in her marriage to another rough-around-the-edges business owner (whose name she refused to take), with a salty teen son and a too-pure-for-this-world younger daughter.

I spent all weekend reading Big Brother and counting Pandora Halfdanarson’s connections to We Need To Talk About Kevin‘s Eva Khatchadourian. Though the similarities admittedly irritate me to no end, both novels are ultimately about social decorum, and take place in “universes” different enough that only the women’s internal dialogues match up. Both are heavily concerned with setting a boundary between your self and your title in a female role: a mother for Eva, a sister for Pandora. Both are verbose, with adjectives that send you to the thesaurus and detail lavished on whatever the protagonists are truly passionate about.

Big Brother follows Pandora and her family’s struggle after taking in her older brother Edison, recently couch-surfing and, she discovers at the airport, over twice his former size. Pandora’s husband Fletcher handcarves furniture. You can see where this is going. Fletcher winds up hating Edison so much that he draws a line in the sand regarding their marriage, just in time for Edison to reveal that once he returns home, he has no backup plan. High stakes and high drama: it hooks me every time.

The ending to Big Brother is a truly awful twist and a very cheap shot. I hate it, I feel cheated, and I don’t understand Shriver’s motivation to include it at all… but I can’t stop turning it over in my mind. We Need To Talk About Kevin, incidentally, is one of the only novels that still wakes me up sometimes- and I found myself latched to that so hard that I completed it over my three-day Thanksgiving weekend.

What I’m trying to tell you is this: if you need to go ultraintrovert for a while, you can do much worse than a Lionel Shriver novel. They do not finish with you when you finish with them. Though I’m disappointed with Big Brother, I can’t recommend Kevin strongly enough, but it’s not for weak stomachs. It follows the mother of a school shooter trying to see where she fit in the picture.

Of the bookstores in town, I think you’re most likely to find either of these at Bookshop West Portal: when the Borders nearer the SFSU campus was open, they had approximately the same stock, and the clientele seems the type to eat this sort of thing up. If not, Big Brother is available at the West Portal Public Library down the block- I’m leaving to return it right now.

Happy reading!

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