Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found

At this moment, I suddenly want to change everything that is me, the observer part, and move from something else: the living-your-life part. When does that start exactly? And something else. I look into the mirror and someone else says:
What are you doing here? You have no right to live. [pg 145]

Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found
by Marie Brenner

Sarah Crichton Books, 2008
Nonfiction (Memoir); 268 pgs

I was three when my brother entered this world. My mother had to be rushed to the hospital, nearly dropping my brother out right there in the hospital parking lot. My father's parents were visiting, my grandmother watching me while my parents were away. I remember my father coming home with a grin on his face. It's a boy! My brother and I were like most other brother and sister pairs, friends one minute, playing in the dirt together or taking to the high seas on our boats made of furniture in the living room, to mortal enemies the next, struggling over who would sit in the passenger seat of the car. As we got older, we grew closer; while at other times we seemed to grow farther apart, family circumstances bringing us together but also keeping us at arms distance.

I have this image of me as the older sister, the protector and the one who had to set the good example. My brother was the youngest child, the only boy, and the one who got away with more. While early on that bothered me, later it seemed the natural way of things--how it works in families--and my brother deserved a break. His was a battle that seemed uphill more so than mine. Our story is an old and familiar one. Life as it was went on for both of us. Our relationship was one that ebbed and flowed like the tide. In recent years, we have not had much of a relationship at all. We are both to blame. There are reasons, some obvious and others less so, none of which I will go into here.

Marie Brenner is a well respected journalist having accomplished much in her career. Her work on an exposé entitled “The Man Who Knew Too Much” was the basis for the movie The Insider, which took a hard look at tobacco company practices. She has built a life on asking questions and telling stories. Her brother Carl had been a trial attorney at one time who later in life chose to give that up and grow apples and pears much to the surprise of his family.

Marie was the polar opposite of her brother. She was liberal where he was conservative. She preferred city life while Carl felt most at home in the country surrounded by his orchards. Marie was married with a child. Carl was more of a lady’s man. He liked things just so and preferred a quiet life. Marie was constantly on the go, searching out details and looking for meaning. Both were stubborn and set in their ways, believing the other was wrong more often than not. The two may have held different beliefs and ideas and lived very different lives, but they were both very similar as well.

Marie Brenner and her brother Carl have always had a difficult relationship. They spoke just about every week; however, their conversations almost always turned into arguments. The constant bickering and lack of connection between them weighed heavily on Marie, especially after learning that her brother had cancer. Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to connect with him, to understand him and to be there for him. She set out to make that happen, deciding to surprise him with an extended visit. She left her home in New York and headed for Washington. Marie studied up on apples and orchards with the intention of using the information to get close to her brother, but her constant questions and search for knowledge often seemed more like a way to avoid talking about the real issues that lingered between them.

Marie and Carl's story was one that crept up on me. I had trouble settling into it at first. I wasn't sure what to think of Marie, and it took me a while to warm up to her. I connected with Carl much more quickly despite his more curmudgeonly manner. Carl's struggle with cancer, his will to live, along with his resilience and strength, hit close to home for me with my friend's recent battle with cancer. The lack of availability of treatment options despite the fact that they may exist (albeit not in perfect form) must be so frustrating for families in similar situations who only want to exhaust all means before it is too late.

I was most drawn into the Brenner family history, learning about Carl and Marie's father and his relationship with his siblings as well as that of their parents. History was repeating itself. The strain between Milton Brenner and his sister, Anita, was being played out in Marie and Carl's own relationship.

The author’s story unfolds bit by bit, interweaving past and present. Where one began and the other ended was not always clear. The writing is stylish and poetic at times, almost a stream of consciousness. Marie Brenner effectively was able get across her own fear and the control she was trying to maintain as she dealt with her brother's illness, her frustration with both herself and her brother for not having a closer relationship, and her attempts at developing a closer bond with him before it was too late.

So many years went by where sister and brother constantly battled with each other, their own egos and stubbornness getting in the way. It was not until her brother's diagnosis of cancer that the two reached out for each other, already with so many years lost in between. Marie did grow and mature during the course of the book, and by the end, I felt a kinship with her. I could see bits and pieces of my own relationship with my brother in her relationship with Carl. I understood better what she was going through and what she had been trying to achieve with her brother. Both she and Carl made mistakes as we all do in our own relationships. Even when they didn't recognize it, they shared a bond and loved each other as only a brother and sister can.

Apples and Oranges: My Brother an Me, Lost and Found demonstrates the strength and fragility of familial ties. It is a story of love and redemption and of hope and perseverance.

Rating: * (Good +)

Check out the author’s website for more information about Marie Brenner and her writing.

Read what others had to say about this book:
Book Chase
The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Review book provided by Nicole Bruce from Book Report Network.


  1. Excellent, excellent review. I wish that illness hadn't been the basis for their new-found connection. It's a great title, isn't it? Being an only child, I look at these relationships only from the outside, but it seems as if there is a pressure, a need to be friends with one's siblings, though sometimes there just isn't a common thread other than being related. Somewhere I read that kids in the same birth order, say the firstborn in two families, are more similar than two siblings in the same family. Anyhow, great review!

  2. Another only child I don't imagine I'd relate to this book like you have but it was interesting to read your thoughts. :)

  3. I just finished this too, and I wonder whether one reason I didn't quite connect with it was the fact that I have a sister and not a brother, and that's a different sort of sibling relationship.

    I have to admit that I was a little relieved to note that you had some of the same challenges reading this book that I did. Great review, Wendy! I hope you won't mind if I link to it when I post mine :-).

  4. My little brother and I were never close and we probably never will be but I love stories about close families, go figure.

  5. Nan - Thank you so much! It was sad that the illness was what finally brought them together. It often seems the crises of one kind or another has that effect though.

    I wouldn't be surprised if it's true that first borns have more in common with each other than their own siblings in some cases. It's probably true of my husband and I in many respects.

    Tanabata - I doubt it would have quite the same effect on you as it did on me in that case. I think that the book will appeal to some people without siblings. It just depends on what you are interested in.

    Florinda - Thanks! Hurry up and post your review! I want to read your thoughts on it. I will add your link once you do. :-)

    You actually made a comment not too long ago that you were struggling with the book a bit (or something like that), which was a bit of a relief for me. I was afraid it was just me.

    Jen - I'm the same way, Jen. I love stories about close families too. I think on my part it's a bit of wishful thinking.

  6. This is one I wanted to read but decided I didn't have time for (sigh). Too many books, too few time machines...

  7. I might pick this up one day, Wendy.

  8. I was offered this as an ARC and turned it down. Obviously a mistake.

  9. What a lovely review. Your brother should read this, I hope he does:)

  10. Heather - I know exactly what you mean! I'm in the same boat right now. I do wish they had a device that at least would stop time for a little while so I could catch up on some of my reading. :-)

    Alice - If you do, I hope you will enjoy it, Alice!

    Jenclair - I've felt that way about a couple of books I passed on, but we can only read so much, right?

    Tracy - Thank you! I am not sure it's his type of book, but maybe I can talk him into it. :-)

  11. Great review! I like reading about sibling relationships. This one sounds good.

  12. Lisa - Thanks! I like reading about sibling relationships too. :-)


Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating all comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.