Lionel Shriver

Home town hero Lionel Shriver returned to Raleigh last night to discuss her new novel, Big Brother, at Quail Ridge Books. About 50 people – including a couple-three without gray hair – heard her describe her latest sally into our politically charged landscape: a novel hinged on obesity.

Inspired by her late brother’s weight issues, which contributed to his death at 55, the novel takes off when 40-something Pandora picks up her brother, Edison, at the airport. The once svelte jazz musician has gained hundreds of pounds in the four years since his sister saw him last. The book asks: “What happened?”

Problems compound after Edison stays longer than expected, leading Pandora’s husband to deliver an ultimatum: it’s him or me.

Lionel had appeared on the Diane Rehm Show earlier and was still taken aback by an email read on the air that scolded her for calling Edison “fat.” It seems some people are working to turn this into a slur.  No doubt, she will take heat for asking the question “what happened?” which implies something terrible and tragic has happened to Edison.

Lionel – who, with her Michelle Obama arms, looked incredibly fit – felt compelled to state the obvious: Her book is not about name-calling or stigmatization, but compassion. It is an effort, she said, to get us to discuss a major social issue that is largely ignored – just she as pushed us to think about the ambivalence some women feel toward motherhood (as well as teenage violence) in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Shriver is the closest thing we have to Holden Caulfield. Instead of just complaining about the elephants in the room others insist on ignoring, she writes books about them.

Lionel Shriver’s Top Ten List

1. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940).
2. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936).
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
4. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948).
5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961).
6. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920).
7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966).
8. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1868).
9. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895).
10. Paris Trout by Pete Dexter (1988).