Determined to radically improve--or at least to better understand--her relationship with her brother, she puts much of the rest of her life on hold and moves from her home in New York City to be near her brother on his apple farms in Washington State and at his main home in Texas.
Brenner unflinchingly shares even the unflattering things she discovers about herself, about her brother, about her family's history. While doing so, she often jumps back and forth in time in a way that is occasionally jarring. Ultimately, though, the flashing forward and back came to seem an organic part of the storytelling process--putting us that much more inside her head and heart. It is as though she gives us specific moments not in the chronological order in which they occurred, but in the order in which their deeper meaning became clear to her.
Throughout the book, Brenner pulls no punches in relaying her brother's verbal attacks and anger at her and the world, but she is also open about what she sees as her own contribution to the distance between them. At one point, Brenner's insatiable desire to figure this sibling thing out leads her to meet with a psychiatrist and author who has some interest in the dynamics of sibling relationships and, of course, she also reads extensively on the subject. Summing up all her research she writes this passage, which will likely stay with me for a long time:
In other words, the Bermuda triangle that can never be explained but allows you to experience colleagues and partners with something approaching the mind-set you had with your siblings. Did you look to them as mentors, enemies, confidants, or competitors? Or a combination of all these elements depending on the day?
Now that I understood it, that it was there, underneath, like a cop directing traffic, it would take every shred of discipline to look for the common ground, the links that attached us to the world rather than the thing that separated us. And that was a decision, like choosing chocolate over strawberry, that was within me to make.
I failed at this much of the time.
The last line was like a punch in the gut, made all the more poignant by Brenner's unadorned prose.
Had she wanted to produce just another sentimental memorial to a lost sibling,* she certainly had the material to do so, but instead, she remains true to herself, to their relationship, and to that uncrossable and unfathomable space that lies between us and those we wish to be closest to.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Powerful.
*Given that Brenner reveals her brother's death within the first few paragraphs of the book's preface, I did not feel as though I was giving too much away here.